"I think police who were involved in the front lines of that interview and that part of the investigation were stunned at Rachel Shoaf's confession," Ashdown told Judge Russell Clawges that day. "She confessed to a plan and conspiracy with another juvenile to kill Skylar Neese. A plan carried out."
The three girls drove to Wayne Township, Pa., got out of the car and the suspects pretended to socialize with Neese.
"And, at a planned and agreed-upon moment," Ashdown said, the girls "attacked and stabbed Skylar to death, and they left her there."
They tried to bury Neese, she said, but covered her with branches when they couldn't.
Crouse, who lives a block from the Neeses' apartment, was horrified by the revelation.
"I can't imagine my friends deceiving me like that," she said. "Tragedies happen -- accidents, things like that -- but not predetermined murder of a 16- or 17-year-old.
"It baffles me that somebody so young could do something like that. All of their lives were just starting out."
In the five-page court file on Shoaf, prosecutors say they plan to recommend a 20-year prison sentence. She could get as many as 40 years, though.
Shoaf's family issued a public apology through a lawyer but has made no further statements.
"There is no way to describe the pain that we, too, are feeling," they said. "We are truly sorry for the pain that she has caused the Neese family, and we know her actions are unforgivable and inexcusable. Our daughter has admitted her involvement and she has accepted responsibility for her actions.
"Our hearts are broken for your loss," they told the Neese family, "and we are still trying to come to terms with this event."
Mary Neese has declined interview requests.
The family has tried to spare others their agony, persuading legislators to pass "Skylar's Law" earlier this year. Under the law, Amber Alerts in West Virginia no longer are limited to kidnappings. Even when authorities suspect a child is a runaway, information is turned over to Amber Alert officials.
McClead said his family knew the girl they'd taken to amusement parks and had in their home for sleepovers hadn't run away.
"When school went back in session and she wasn't there, we knew something was wrong because she wouldn't miss school," he said. "She was a really, really smart kid."
The transcript of Shoaf's hearing shows other students also had suspicions, chattering on social media about all three girls.
A few overheard a conversation between the suspects about the plot but waited to report it. The teenagers thought it was a joke, Ashdown told the judge, "but only later decided and believed it was all too true and all too prophetic."
McClead said he marvels that two teenage girls could maintain their deception from July to January.
"Some of the criminals that are locked up for life aren't that hard."