Community Has Hope For Missing Boys

Investigators Say They're 'Leaving No Stone Unturned'

Published On: Nov 24 2011 03:37:10 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 02 2010 06:17:26 AM EST
MORENCI, Mich. -

The mayor and police chief of the small Michigan town of Morenci said Thursday that hope is still alive that three of their brightest residents -- 9-year-old Andrew, 7-year-old Alexander and 5-year-old Tanner Skelton -- will be found.

The brothers were reported missing Friday by their mother, Tanya Skelton, after their father, John Skelton, didn't return them after an arranged visit.

Volunteers have fanned out each day -- and will head out again for a sixth day Thursday -- searching the countryside around Morenci and across the border in Ohio. Hundreds have offered their time and money, including an account set up at a local bank to take donations for the family and an anonymous donor whom police say has offered a $10,000 reward for the return or recovery of the brothers.

Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks has been holding daily press conferences to update the community on the progress of the searches. He said Thursday that volunteers and investigations -- including the FBI -- continue to search areas of interest and that he was confident in the direction the search efforts were going.

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"I'm not giving up," he said, as he mentioned having personally met each of the brothers and being touched by their joyful spirits. He said no stone would be left unturned in the search for the boys.

Morenci Mayor Keith Pennigton said the boys' disappearance has riveted and broke the heart of the community.

"When the boys turned up missing last week, Morenci was thrust into the national spotlight in a way that very few cities of 2,000 people have ever experienced. We certainly do not welcome the circumstance of the spotlight," he said. "But I am very proud of the response that the community has given in this situation."

Pennington said he would not be satisfied until the boys were home.

"John, if you know where they are at, please tell us," the mayor pleaded to the boys' father.

He repeatedly thanked community volunteers for their efforts.

"What they have done, what they have shown us -- whether they are tramping through the mud or serving sloppy joes -- they are our neighbors in the truest sense of the word," the mayor said.

A spokeswoman for the Skelton family, Kathy Herrera, read a prepared statement addressed to the community on the family's behalf. It thanked volunteers and law enforcement authorities for their dedication and compassion.

John Skelton was charged Tuesday with parental kidnapping of the three boys and is fighting his return to Michigan from a jail in Ohio.

He was being held in a mental facility after he tried to hang himself but is now in the Lucas County Jail in Ohio.

During a hearing Wednesday, he and his court-appointed attorney, Merle Dech, said he would fight being brought back to Michigan?s Lenawee County to face the charges.

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He is being held on a $3 million full cash bond. The next extradition hearing is Dec. 14.

Weeks said the boys' 39-year-old father hasn't told authorities much that they can use as the search for the boys evolves from rescue to recovery.

"We continue to be hopeful that he will share with us the location of Andrew, Alexander and Tanner, and we can move forward to a resolution to this situation," Weeks said.

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Weeks said the father initially told them he gave the boys to a woman he met online and had been having a relationship with. John Skelton told police he asked the woman, Joann Taylor, to take the boys to their mother.

But Weeks said investigators have not been able to find Taylor and they do not believe Skelton and Taylor had a relationship. Police also have not located the van Taylor was reportedly driving.

Tanya Skelton, 44, filed for divorce in September. A judge gave her custody of the boys, but she and John Skelton reached an agreement on visitation.

Crews have scoured hundreds of acres just south of Morenci in northwestern Ohio for the boys.

Local 4 has learned that police will focus their search on the St. Joseph River, the Lazy River campground, Lakes River and ponds near the Ohio turnpike. Also, towns like Pioneer, Ohio, West Unity and Holiday City.

Weeks added that volunteer efforts would be halted this weekend.

"As of Friday evening, we would ask to discontinue the volunteer searches -- I would like the opportunity to process what has been searched and re-evaluate our direction for the following week," he said.

Until then, Weeks asked residents in the Morenci area to search areas of private property that can't be seen from roadways.

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Community Cancels Events Amid Search:

Pennington said the community's Christmas parade that was scheduled for Saturday has been canceled. City Hall is also closed to the public until Tuesday.

A tree-lighting ceremony planned for Sunday is still scheduled to go on.

Morenci is about 75 miles southwest of Detroit. It is only 2.11 square miles.

Many residents say they're rallying around the Skelton family and want to do anything they can to quell the grief.

"This community comes together in a minute to support their own," said Mary Fischer, who is the principal of the city's only school. "It's just a beautiful thing to watch happen."