Morenci police chief Larry Weeks says the father of three missing children was not telling the truth about turning his sons over to a woman he met on the Internet.
At a news conference Monday morning, Weeks announced that the police “can confirm that there is no established relationship between (Skelton) and the person that he described to us as Joann Taylor.”
Weeks also said that the search for the missing boys is moving to northwest Ohio following information from sources.
The three young brothers were last seen in their backyard in Morenci on Thanksgiving Day when Skelton said he turned them over to a woman he met online to take to their mother.
A source noticed that the father’s blue 2000 Dodge Caravan was missing from the house for hours.
“We believe that the boys Alexander, Tanner, and Andrew were in the vehicle that morning or the evening before,” Weeks said.
The vehicle may have been spotted near several Ohio cities including Kunkle, Unity, West Unity, and Holiday City.
The fire department in Pioneer, Ohio will be the secondary staging area for the search effort.
WWJ’s Ron Dewey reports about 200 people gathered for Monday’s search including people from surrounding communities like Adrian and Jonesville.
Jeff Glore, a Morenci native, was impressed with the dedication of the town, which he said came together with “heart-stopping adrenaline.”
Samantha Holbrook came from Adrian to help with the search, after seeing the story unfold on the news. Holbrook said she thinks “it’s really great that this many people were able to come together.”
Police in Morenci, about 75 miles southwest of Detroit, said they fear the boys are in “extreme danger.”
The three boys were reported missing Friday by their mother, Tanya Skelton, Weeks said. A family friend said the couple were estranged and the boys were with their father as part of court-ordered visitation.
John Skelton was being treated at a hospital in Ohio for “mental health issues” after he attempted suicide Friday, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said. When asked if Skelton was a suspect in his sons’ disappearance, Weeks said: “We haven’t ruled anything out yet.”
FBI child abduction teams, along with behavioral science experts, joined numerous police and volunteers to search fields, farmland and wooded areas late into the night Sunday.
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.
One person joining the search Monday said people in Morenci are upset and distraught by the childrens’ disappearance and she believes the father may know something more.
John Skelton’s mother, Roxann Skelton of Jacksonville, Fla., didn’t return a phone message from The Associated Press late Sunday. But she told the Detroit Free Press that her son wouldn’t hurt his children.
“I know my son, he’s not a monster,” she told the newspaper. “He’s a good son and he would not harm his boys. I know those children are, you know, still with us.”
Kathye Herrera, a friend of Tanya Skelton who is serving as the family’s spokeswoman, said the couple have been married for 10 years but are in the process of getting a divorce. Herrera said that earlier this year, John Skelton picked his two older sons up from school and took them to Florida, but later returned to Michigan. Custody was awarded to Tanya Skelton, though John Skelton “had been seeing the boys with no issues,” Herrera said.
Herrera said Tanya Skelton attends a local college or community college and John Skelton was a long-haul truck driver who hasn’t been working in while.
About 200 people gathered Sunday evening 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.
Superintendent Michael Osborne held a staff meeting Saturday to discuss the issue, and organize counselors to talk with students. Osborne said he’s already been approached by students who want to talk.
“Several students have just come up and wanted to share that maybe they have a family member that’s helping in the search, or they know the boys and the family,” he said.
Morenci schools will try to conduct a normal day of classes, but Osborne acknowledged there are more important things on everyone’s mind.
“I think some academic work is getting done today, but that’s not our number one priority today,” he said.
Anyone with information about the kids is asked to call 911 or the Morenci Police Department at 517-458-7104.
Stay tuned to WWJ Newsradio 950 for the latest developments.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.