WHEELING, W.Va. -- A body found in southwestern Pennsylvania is that of a West Virginia girl who went missing last summer, federal officials said Wednesday.
The remains found Jan. 16 in Wayne Township, Pa., have been confirmed as those of 16-year-old Skylar Neese of Star City, said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld, top prosecutor for West Virginia's Northern District.
The FBI is doing tests on her remains, Ihlenfeld said, and an investigation into her death is underway.
An honors student at University High in Morgantown, Neese was last seen on surveillance video leaving her family's apartment July 6, and getting into a car. The Greene County location where she was found is less than 30 miles from there.
Last month, her parents celebrated her 17th birthday without her, holding a candlelight vigil with friends and strangers. The crowd released heart-shaped paper lanterns to float into the sky.
Carol Michaud, Skylar's aunt, told The Dominion Post that the teenager was an environmentalist so she would have preferred them to balloons.
Friends at the event described Neese as bubbly and kind.
"You never think this would happen to someone you know,'' Kelsey Konchesky said.
A legislator from the family's district also recently introduced a bill called Skylar's Law to ensure missing children's cases are handled with urgency. It would modify West Virginia's Amber Alert plan to issue public announcements when any child is reported missing and thought to be in danger, rather than just those believed to have been kidnapped.
Because Neese was seen getting into a vehicle, family members said authorities classified her as a runaway and no alert was issued. But they believe the girl intended to return, noting she didn't take money, contact lenses or other personal items.
Delegate Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, said she understands that a surge in alerts might make some people stop paying attention, but she believes it's still the right thing to do.
Last week, an emotional David Neese appealed to the House Judiciary Committee on his daughter's behalf before it amended and advanced the measure.
"Changing this law, God forbid, may be too late for Skylar,'' he said, fighting back sobs. "But please allow for this bill to be debated on the floor so other families may not have to go through this horrible ordeal.''