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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

Doughnut shop worker says she saw missing boys

SANDUSKY -- A Sandusky doughnut shop employee says she was interviewed by the FBI Wednesday about her belief that she saw the three missing boys from Morenci, Mich., in the shop in late November.

Sandy Jones said an agent from the Cleveland office questioned her for about an hour and said the FBI would contact her Thursday about sending an artist to Sandusky to produce sketches of the three boys and woman she saw enter the House of Donuts at about 9:30 a.m. Nov. 28.

She said the FBI agent said there was no evidence the boys were dead and he hoped they were alive.

An FBI spokesman contacted by The Blade Wednesday declined to answer any questions about the case.

Ms. Jones said she believes the boys are the sons of John Skelton, who is held in the Lucas County jail on $3 million bond on three counts of parental kidnapping. The boys -- Andrew, 9, Alexander, 7, and Tanner, 5 -- have been the subject of a nationwide search since they went missing the day after Thanksgiving. Authorities implied last week that they were dead when they said they did not believe the case would have "a positive outcome."

But Wednesday, Mr. Skelton's parents, William and Roxann Skelton, said after talking with their son via a video connection at the jail in Toledo that the boys were safe.

Outside the jail, Mr. Skelton's parents of Jacksonville Beach, Fla. said their son told them categorically the boys are well, and they believed him. They said Mr. Skelton did not say where the boys are.

"He wanted me to tell you all, verbatim, his boys are safe and sound," Mrs. Skelton told reporters. "He took those boys out of harm's way, and I respect my son. He loves his children, and I respect my son for doing just that."

In Sandusky, Ms. Jones, 40, said she recognized the youngsters from media photos and that the woman with them addressed the youngest child as "Tanner" two or three times. She reported her sighting to Sandusky police, who interviewed her Saturday.

She said she observed the boys and woman for five to seven minutes. The two older boys appeared shy and even scared, while the youngest was more outgoing, she said. The woman appeared "tired" and "ragged" and looked as if she had recently dyed her hair.

She said she told the FBI agent that the boys looked healthy. She described the woman as white, about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, with dark short hair.

"I couldn't believe it when they walked in the door," she said. "They looked just like the missing boys. "

Mr. Skelton initially told authorities he gave the boys to a woman named Joann Taylor for safekeeping, but officials later said that statement had been discredited.

Mr. and Mrs. Skelton's comments Wednesday echoed statements to The Blade last week by Mr. Skelton's sister, Lucinda Ford. Ms. Ford said she believed her brother was hiding the boys in a safe location and accused their mother, Tanya Skelton, of not taking good care of the children.

She stood by those statements Wednesday, but said neither she nor her parents know where the boys are.

"They're not with me, they're not with my parents, they're not with my brother," Ms. Ford said. "I believe wholeheartedly they're safe."

Donna Galloway, the Skeltons' pastor at the Morenci United Methodist Church, said the mother and the community continue to hope that the boys will be found alive.

"I have hope, until it is taken away from me affirmatively and by fact," Ms. Galloway said. "That is because hope is necessary to be able to put one foot in front of the other."

Ms. Galloway, who visited Mr. Skelton in jail on Friday, said allegations by Mr. Skelton and his family that Ms. Skelton mistreated her sons were "outright lies" and an effort to deflect attention from the real issue of the boys' disappearance. She called on Mr. Skelton, and anyone who knows the whereabouts of the boys, to come forward with the information.

"This can be resolved in 5 minutes if John Skelton and his family -- who say they know things -- would tell the truth," Ms. Galloway said angrily. "I think that it is time for the answers to be given, it is time for John to man up ... It's time to end this, it's time to bring the boys home."

Morenci police said Wednesday they would release a statement concerning the case, but later declined to comment.

On Tuesday, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks cautioned reporters against publicizing leads in the case that had not been fully investigated.

Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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