MORENCI, Mich. - Investigators involved in the case of three young brothers who are missing said Tuesday they are "not hopeful" the outcome of the case will have a positive ending.
The boys, 5-year-old Tanner, 7-year-old Alexander and 9-year-old Andrew Skelton, are missing out of Morenci, Mich.
During a news conference, Police Chief Larry Weeks said their father, John Skelton, has been forthcoming with some information but investigators have not been able to verify his statements.
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.
"We're hopeful he, or whoever knows where the boys are, will come forward," Weeks said.
When asked about how he feels the investigation will end he added, "Imagine your worst nightmare has come true".
Police are focusing their primary search efforts near Pioneer, Ohio, a small town along the Michigan-Ohio state line.
Police said they decided to focus on the Ohio area because of cell phone activity.
The boys were last seen the day after Thanksgiving when their father, John Skelton, tried to commit suicide.
John Skelton's mother, who lives in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, spoke to Local 4 Tuesday during a telephone interview.
"I thank everyone who is searching today," said Roxann Skelton. "They (volunteers) are in my prayers and so are my grandsons."
When asked if she has talked with her son, Roxann Skelton replied, "I cannot answer questions like that."
According to police, John Skelton is being treated at a mental health facility in Ohio.
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Skelton's wife, Tanya Skelton, filed for divorce in September. According to court documents, both accused the other of being an unfit parent.
Tanya Skelton accused her husband of twice taking the boys without permission, once to Ohio and a second time to Jacksonville, Fla.
According to court documents, John Skelton wanted sole custody of the boys and planned to move them to Florida. He claimed his wife was unfit because she is a registered sex offender.
Court records show the sex offender designation was required after Tanya Skelton was found guilty of having a brief relationship with a 14-year-old when she was in her 20s.
Tanya Skelton, now 34, has not commented publicly since her sons disappeared.
The boys attended the same elementary school in Morenci, where Michael Osborn is the superintendent of schools.
"Our response is to try and keep people informed - families, faculty, staff and students," said Osborn. "We also want to make sure all the students' needs are taken care of. We want to make sure in a difficult situation like this, that kids who are feelings the affects of this, have counselors available to them."
Osborn said many of the parents have already talked with their children about the situation and that "when students do want to talk, we want to be available to help them have healthy conversations."
A prayer vigil was held for the boys Sunday night after the FBI, police and numerous volunteers scoured fields, farmland and wooded areas near the Ohio-Michigan border. The weekend search for the boys extended to an Ohio state park just south of the Michigan state line, according to the Sheriff's Office in Fulton County, Ohio. The FBI got involved Friday, shortly after being contacted by Michigan authorities, said Andrew Arena, head of the agency's Detroit office.
The boys' 39-year-old father was being treated at a hospital in Ohio for "mental health issues" after he tried to hang himself Friday, Weeks said.
When asked if Skelton was a suspect in his sons' disappearance, Weeks said, "We haven't ruled anything out yet."
The boys were last seen Thursday and reported missing the next day by their mother, Tanya Skelton, Weeks said. A family friend said the boys were with their father as part of court-ordered visitation and their parents were going through a divorce.
About 200 people gathered for a prayer vigil at a church in Morenci, a small, mostly blue-collar and farming community just north of the Ohio state line. Lights were strung on poles along the town's main street, and festive decorations adorned windows in some of the shops and eateries in town.
Friends said the Skelton boys also started celebrating the holidays early by making greeting cards. One of the older brothers wrote "Jesus is awesome" on his card and drew a Nativity scene, said Kathye Herrera, a friend of Tanya Skelton who is serving as the family's spokeswoman.
"They love church. They love the interaction, and they know all about Jesus," Herrera said.
Herrera said the boys' parents have been married for 10.
Herrera said Tanya Skelton attends a local college or community college and John Skelton was a long-haul truck driver who hasn't worked in awhile.
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