ADRIAN — John Skelton, the father of three missing boys from Morenci, Mich., told a judge in a civil hearing Thursday that his children are with a "organization," but would not specify where they are being held.
Mr. Skelton appeared before Judge Margaret Noe in Lenawee County Circuit Court for a hearing regarding his failure to comply with a custody order. Judge Noe ordered Mr. Skelton, 39, held pending compliance with the order.
During the hearing, Mr. Skelton said he last saw his children at his home on Thanksgiving night.
He said they left his home with a person in a van. He said he knew the "organization" they were with but declined to give additional information.
The Blade obtained a video of the court proceeding, during which Mr. Skelton's estranged wife, Tanya, took the witness stand and said Mr. Skelton told her on Nov. 26 — the day after Thanksgiving — that the three boys, ages 9, 7, and 5, were with a woman named Joann Taylor.
Authorities later discounted the story about Ms. Taylor.
When asked by Judge Noe where the boys were, Ms. Skelton responded that she didn't know.
"I have not had access to talk to him," she said of Mr. Skelton.
The hearing was independent of criminal proceedings against Mr. Skelton, who faces parental kidnapping charges involving the boys. He is already being held on those charges in lieu of $30 million bond in the Lenawee County jail.
The Morenci Police Department said Thursday they have received around 900 tips concerning the case, including alleged sightings of the boys, who have been missing since Thanksgiving.
So far none of those sightings have been confirmed, police said. Earlier, Morenci police Chief Larry Weeks said he did not expect the case to have a "positive outcome," signalling that the boys were likely dead.
The City of Morenci also announced the establishment of a reward fund for information leading to the return or recovery of the boys, Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton.
Donations to that fund would be in addition to a $10,000 reward already provided by an anonymous donor. In a statement, Morenci officials said the hope is that a larger reward will provide a greater incentive for people with information about the boys to come forward.
Anyone who would like to donate to the fund may do so at any First Federal Bank branch or mail their donation with attention to the "Skelton Reward Fund" to: First Federal Bank, 601 N. Clinton Street, Defiance, OH 43512.