Six days of searching, still no clues 2010.12.08

Written by David Green.

front.searchers.2.jpgBy DAVID GREEN

The last regular news conference came Thursday morning. The citizen search parties ended Friday. Even the television trucks were thinning out as the week ended.

But the first week of the missing Skelton brothers ended much the way it began: Not a trace of the boys and not a word from the father.

John Skelton was arrested Nov. 30 and charged with parental kidnapping following the disappearance of his three sons, Andrew, Alexander and Tanner. The brothers were last seen by a neighbor on Thanksgiving Day.

Skelton told police he gave the boys to a woman named Joann Taylor before he returned home to attempt suicide by hanging. He said the suicide failed and he called a friend to transport him to the Fulton County Health Center for an ankle fracture.

From there he was transported to a mental health facility in Toledo for evaluation, and upon release, he was arrested.

He is lodged in the Lucas County Jail with a $3 million bond and is fighting extradition to Michigan. A hearing is scheduled Dec. 14.

Police eventually doubted the existence of Taylor and they announced Nov. 29 that she was no longer part of the investigation.

Search teams of area volunteers began combing the countryside Sunday, Nov. 28, the numbers swelled throughout the week until 400 and more were being bused to various locations in Lenawee, Hillsdale, Fulton and Williams counties.

Morenci police chief Larry Weeks announced Thursday that daily press conferences were ending, with no information to add, and the citizen searches would cease for the time being on Friday.

That decision was supported by the Skelton family, said Kathye Herrera, who serves as a spokesperson for the boys’ mother, Tanya.

“We support their decision to give volunteers time to recouperate and time to spend with their own families,” she said.

The searches might resume if new information arrived, Weeks said, but law enforcement officers aided by fire department members would handle search duties for the present time.

Searches continued over the weekend, Weeks said in a press release Tuesday, all with negative results. He urged people in the four-county area to search their own properties.

“I think it would be fair to say that based on the information we’ve gathered up to this point that we can continue to be hopeful that [John Skelton] will share with us the location of Andrew, Alexander and Tanner,” Weeks said Thursday, “and we can move forward to a resolution of this situation.”

Weeks said Skelton is now represented by an attorney. A visit to Skelton in prison by local clergy netted no new information.

Weeks was asked Thursday by a reporter if the case was a stalemate. Weeks said he hasn’t used that word.

“I don’t believe it’s a stalemate,” he said. “We’ll continue to speed ahead. Whatever obstacles are in our way, we’ll use whatever legal means necessary to move through them or around them and continue on.”

Vast resources

Weeks said it was obvious from early on in the case that his department could not handle the investigation alone. He’s been impressed with the quality of help sent to Morenci.

The FBI, the Michigan State Police, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Southeast Michigan Crimes Against Children Task Force, the Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team—these teams brought in top-notch personnel well versed in child abduction cases.

“People involved with these teams came from all over the United States,” he said.

But still, even with all of these resources plus assistance from the local law enforcement agencies, no clues have turned up.

“We’ve had well over 700 tips come in to us from throughout the country,” he said. “The information is collected and assessed and followed up on appropriately.”

Tuesday he cautioned media outlets against reporting possible sitings of the boys without reports first properly vetted by investigators to avoid the possibility of giving false hope to the Skelton family and community members.

  • Play Practice
    DRAMA—Fayette schools, in conjunction with the Opera House Theater program, will present two plays Friday night at the Fayette Opera House. From the left is Autumn Black, Wyatt Mitchell, Elizabeth Myers, Jonah Perdue, Sam Myers (in the back) and Lauren Dale. Other cast members are Brynn Balmer, Mason Maginn, Ashtyn Dominique, Stephanie Munguia and Sierra Munguia. Jason Stuckey serves as the technician and Trinity Leady is the backstage manager. The plays will be performed during the day Friday for students and for the public at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.rover
    CLEARING THE WAY—Road crossings in the area on the construction route of the Rover natural gas pipeline are marked with poles and flags as preliminary work nears. Ditches and field entry points are covered with thick planks in many areas to support equipment for tree clearing operations. Actual pipeline construction is progressing across Ohio toward a collecting station near Defiance. That segment of the project is expected to wrap up in July. The 42-inch line through Michigan and into Ontario is scheduled for completion in November. The line is projected to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.
  • Front.geese
    ON THE MOVE—Six goslings head out on manuevers with their parents in an area lake. Baby waterfowl are showing up in lakes and ponds throughout the area.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
    FUN NIGHT FUN—Savanna Miles sits patiently while Abbie White works on a face paint design Friday during the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Gracie Snead watches the progress after having spent time in the chair. Abbie was one of several volunteer painters, each creating their own unique look. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.

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