Bullying in schools: Reflecting five years after Skylar Neese's death

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HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - It's long been a worry for parents and guardians: how students treat each other when adults aren't looking, in school hallways and classrooms.

"My little niece, she's seven years old, and the other day she wouldn't eat her food because she's like 'I'm too fat,'" Corey Hurley, a Clarksburg resident, recalled.

Hurley's concerns about bullying are compounded by the ever expanding world of social media, a world his niece will surely be exposed to one day.

"With those keyboards and no face-to-face interaction, it makes it that much easier," Hurley explained.

And through several conversations Thursday, students revealed the behavior starts at a young age.

"My friend was actually cyberbullied," said Gavin Brown, a 12-year-old who attends Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

"This one guy told him to kill himself, so he actually thought about committing suicide, but he didn't," Brown explained, as he recalled stepping in himself to help his friend.

Skylar Neese was a 16-year-old sophomore at University High School in Morgantown, when the two people she regarded as her best friends killed her in Pennsylvania. Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy apparently planned the murder in school. All three of them maintained active social media profiles.

Dr. Mark Manchin, superintendent of Harrison County Schools, says Neese's murder "raised the level of consciousness."

"We have a tendency to dismiss or diminish students, children, and their actions and we say 'oh that's just teenagers,' but in this instance, it's very real," Manchin explained.

He explained that every student in Harrison County undergoes extensive training on how to recognize and address physical and cyber bullying. But as he admits, regulating the latter is still a tall task.

"We struggle with it," Dr. Manchin explained. "Because of the availability--it's available to everybody."