MORENCI, Mich. — Dozens of people in this small Lenawee County town searched wooded areas and parks well past sunset Saturday as police investigated the disappearance of three boys missing for a second day.
An Amber Alert was issued for Andrew Ryan Skelton, 9, Alexander William Skelton, 7, and Tanner Lucas Skelton, 5, who were reportedly last seen Friday in their father's backyard at his home in Morenci, said police Chief Larry Weeks.
The chief said the boys' father, John Skelton, 39, attempted to hang himself Friday. He told police he made the attempt sometime after giving his sons to a woman he knows.
Police said Mr. Skelton, who works as a long-haul truck driver, called an acquaintance after the failed attempt and the acquaintance drove him to Fulton County Health Center in Wauseon.
Afterward, Mr. Skelton told officers he gave the three boys to a woman named Joann Taylor and asked her Friday morning to deliver the boys to their mother, Tanya Skelton. The Skeltons are separated and in the midst of a divorce.
“Up to this point we have not been able to locate a Joann Taylor or confirm that she even exists,” Chief Weeks said. “We can't confirm whether or not it is a fake story.”
A car was towed from the Skelton home Saturday night, which Chief Weeks said was part of routine evidence preservation.
A Michigan State Police helicopter with thermal imaging equipment surveyed the area around Morenci after dark.
Volunteers planned to reconvene at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Morenci firehouse for a ground-based search, while a community prayer vigil was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today in the Morenci United Methodist Church, 111 East Main St.
Police said Mr. Skelton told them he gave his sons to Ms. Taylor to take to their mother so they would not see him kill himself.
He also told police Ms. Taylor lives near either Hillsdale or Jackson, Mich.
“They developed a relationship several years ago in passing. He reports that they maintained a relationship over several years via e-mail,” Chief Weeks said.
Although the bulletin distributed by Amber Alert Michigan said the missing boys were “believed to be in extreme danger,” the police chief stopped short of saying they could be victims of foul play.
“Anytime you have children this old that are not with a caring loved one, I think you have to assume they are in some type of jeopardy. To react otherwise would be neglectful,” he said.
Ms. Skelton reported her children missing after they were overdue at her home Friday, police said.
Chief Weeks asked anyone who saw the boys after 2:30 p.m. Thursday to contact Morenci police.
“We have been able to confirm outside immediate family members that two of the boys were seen Thursday afternoon,” Chief Weeks said.
Mr. Skelton updated his Facebook page Wednesday with the status: “I love my wife very much. May God and Tanya forgive me.”
The missing boys are white. Andrew is 4 feet 1 inch, weighs 57 pounds and has brown eyes and hair. Alexander is 3 feet 9 inches, weighs 45 pounds, has brown eyes and hair and has a scar at his hairline and on his chin. Tanner is 3 feet 6 inches with blue eyes and blond hair.
Friends and neighbors painted a picture of a broken family for the Skeltons.
Charles Cox, a retiree who lives near Mr. Skelton, said Ms. Skelton moved out of the home in the fall.
“I last saw the father come in with his van on Tuesday or early in the week,” Mr. Cox said. “I know the kids better than the adults because they liked to play in my driveway. They would build ramps and jump bikes over them.”
Mary Alcock, a neighbor of the Skeltons, was among about 40 people searching heavily wooded Riverside Natural Area north of Morenci's Main Street.
“Two of the boys are best friends with my boys,” she said. “The father never spoke to us at all the whole time they lived down the street from us for two years.”
Ms. Skelton spent most of Saturday in the Morenci police building working with authorities including FBI agents and Michigan State Police. She did not speak with reporters.
Kathye Herrera, a longtime friend of Ms. Skelton's parents, told reporters the boys' mother has been devastated with worry.
“There is a lot of pain and frustration not knowing what is going on,” Ms. Herrera said.
“She is praying that the children are safe and being taken care of. … The mom keeps saying, ‘I just want my babies back, I just want my babies back.'”
The Skeltons have been married for eight years, according to Mr. Skelton's Facebook page. Together they have the three boys; Ms. Skelton has two daughters from a previous relationship, and Mr. Skelton has another child with a different woman.
Haley Simpkins, a close friend of Ms. Skelton's 23-year-old daughter, said the apparent abduction has shaken the small peaceful community.
“It's a complete heartbreak. It's horrible that he would let a complete stranger that we know of, take his boys,” she said.
“This is a small community and none of us have ever heard of her, and I am close with the family.”
Miss Simpkins said she was with Ms. Skelton Friday night.
“It's just devastating to know those little boys are out there and no one knows where they are,” she said.
A state police helicopter circled the town with a searchlight last night, and dozens of people walked through farm fields and wooded areas with flashlights.
Police said any information regarding the missing children, the alleged abductor or the suspect's vehicle should be reported by calling 911, the Morenci Police Department at 517-458-2323 or Lenawee County Dispatch at 517-263-0524.
Blade staff writer JC Reindl contributed to this report.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.