MORENCI, Mich. — It has been two years since Andrew, Alexander, and Tanner Skelton vanished from this Lenawee County community near the Ohio-Michigan border.
Reminders of the boys, who were ages, 9, 7, and 5, respectively, when they were last seen on Thanksgiving Day, 2010, are scattered throughout the town of 2,500. Faded yellow homecoming ribbons wrap around trees and light poles, and posters offering rewards for information about their whereabouts hang in the doors and windows of offices and shops.
While the mystery surrounding the boys’ disappearance haunts the community, their mother, Tanya Zuvers, and her family refuse to give up hope they will be found and returned safely.
Roughly 100 family, friends, community members, and supporters gathered Sunday afternoon at Wakefield Park in Morenci to share memories of the three boys and watch the family unveil a plaque in their honor. The boys’ likenesses and names are inscribed on the plaque, as are as the words “faith, hope, love.”
It’s attached to a boulder from the Hudson, Mich., farm of Ms. Zuvers’ sister and brother-in-law. The rock symbolizes not just the family and community’s love for the boys, but also voices the great unknown question of the last two years: Where are they?
Its placement in the park, underneath one of three trees dedicated to the boys, is intended to be temporary. If the boys return home alive, the monument will move to Ms. Zuvers’ house; if only bodies are found, the rock will serve as a headstone, the boys’ mother and grandmother both said.
Some in the crowd sniffled and teared up as Ms. Zuvers and others recalled memories of the three boys. The family also thanked people for their support.
Beverly Zuvers, the boys’ grandmother, said the tragedy binds the town.
“It’s tied us together. We’ve always had a loving, caring community,” she said and noted that residents now are more aware of child safety issues.
The family continues to reach out to the community and beyond to raise awareness about the boys. Ms. Zuvers recently turned to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for help, and age-progressed photos of each child were posted on the agency’s Web site. She showed the photos at Sunday’s event, and the images also were displayed at the town fire station, where community members gathered after the park event.
She said the missing-children’s center blended photos of the boys with images of their mother around the same ages to project what they might look like now.
“I am hoping that someone will be able to see these photos and recognize that they resemble children that they may have seen,” she said. “Hopefully that will bring in the tip that we need.”
Ms. Zuvers and the boys’ father, John Skelton, were in the midst of a bitter divorce when she gave permission for him to take the children to his home, where they were last seen in the back yard.
They were reported missing by their mother the next day, after Skelton failed to return the boys. During that time, he was taken to a Wauseon hospital for treatment for an ankle injury suffered in an apparent suicide attempt.
Skelton gave authorities different accounts of the boys’ whereabouts. He testified during a court hearing that he handed them over to a secret child-protection group. But he gave other statements too, including recounting a dream about seeing the boys and their belongings near a trash bin.
Skelton, 41, pleaded no contest to charges of unlawful imprisonment and was sentenced in September, 2011, to 10 to 15 years in prison. He is housed at the Chippewa Correctional Facility and may seek release in 2020.
Weeks after the boys’ disappearance, law enforcement changed the focus of the case from a search to a homicide investigation, with their father as the suspect.
Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks doesn’t discount the efforts of Ms. Zuvers and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to publicize the case, but his position hasn’t changed. He believes Skelton killed his sons during the early-morning hours of Nov. 26, 2010, and hid the bodies.
“His choice to hide behind this outlandish story is selfish and cowardly. If he cared about his sons at all, he would disclose the truth and bring resolution to this case,” the police chief said in a statement.
More than 1,300 tips have been collected during the two years, said Chief Weeks, who has been assisted by the FBI and Michigan State Police in the investigation.
In addition to reaching out to the missing-children agency, Ms. Zuvers has embraced social networking and the Internet to keep her sons in the public eye.
Details about the boys are posted on the sites — skeltonbrothers.org and facebook.com/ MissingSkelton Brothers — as well as on the posters offering a $60,000 reward for information leading to their return.
Also, through the efforts of an awareness group that Ms. Zuvers and others began, volunteers recently handed out 3,000 flyers with information about the boys at roadside rest areas and truck stops. Supporters continued fund-raising Sunday for an awareness effort. Ms. Zuvers’ cousin Kristy Shaffer of Morenci presided over a baked-goods table at the fire station.
Mrs. Shaffer has two children who were close to the missing boys and said the boys frequently come up in discussions around town and with her own children.
“We would just always try to stay positive and upbeat and continue to remind them that we will bring them home,” she said.
Anyone with information about the boys is asked to call Morenci police at 517-458-7104.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.