By DAVID GREEN
“Our lives are going to change in a big way.”
That’s the message Morenci Chief of Police Larry Weeks told the city’s mayor, Keith Pennington, a year ago after the sudden disappearance of Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton.
Pennington recounted that phone call Sunday afternoon in the high school gymnasium when he faced an audience of several hundred people gathered to observe the one-year anniversary of the brothers’ absence.
Pennington said he wanted to bring a bag of cash and dump the $60,000 reward fund onto the stage to remind people it’s still here, ready to go to anyone providing information about the case.
“Now is the time to come forward,” he told the crowd, but noted that the big break will likely have to come from the boys’ father, John Skelton.
Skelton is serving a sentence of 10 to 15 years at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Mich., after pleading no contest to unlawful imprisonment of the boys.
When it was Chief Weeks’ turn to speak, he recounted stories about the people from dozens of agencies and organizations that have assisted the Morenci police in investigating the case.
He told of FBI agents and Michigan State Police officers refusing to leave for a rest and occasionally falling asleep in their chairs.
The chief said it pains him when he’s not able to give all the details of the case, especially when he’s unable to provide all the answers that people want to hear. He continues to do everything he can think of to work toward resolution of the case, such as the distribution of flyers last week at the intersection of Morenci Road and U.S. 127.
“When I go to bed at night and lay my head on the pillow, I want to know I’ve done everything I can do,” he said.
Weeks said he’s occasionally asked if it’s a cold case and his answer is that it definitely is not.
“We hold up hope that we’re going to solve this case,” he said.
It’s a matter of “when” and not “if,” repeating what he’s heard others involved in the case say. That’s the attitude he hears frequently and it’s what gives him the strength to carry on.
At the end of his talk, Chief Weeks received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Michigan State Police trooper Sarah Krebs, who works with missing person cases, said Morenci is very fortunate to have such a close relationship with Chief Weeks and his department. That’s something she doesn’t see in all communities.
Krebs, a detective and forensic artist with the state police, said people are often critical of missing person investigations, thinking that officers just aren’t doing enough. She agrees that in years past there were weaknesses, but she believes procedures have been strengthened and gaps filled to create a much better system, including communication with family members and the public.
Krebs praised the support of the community in working to solve the case.
“I’m happy to see Morenci has taken volunteerism to heart,” she said. “Continue to do this. Do everything you can so it doesn’t happen again.”
A slideshow highlighting some of Michigan’s missing persons indicated that more than 3,000 people in the state are unaccounted for—many for a decade and more.
“I would like to congratulate the Morenci community for its support of the Skelton family and I really hope you continue to help in your efforts,” Trooper Krebs said.
Tanya Zuvers, the mother of the missing boys, said afterward that she was pleased with how the program went. This was the first event that she and her daughters planned, from beginning to end, and it went even better than anticipated.
“I feel that we accomplished what we wanted by keeping it out there that Andrew, Alexander and Tanner are still missing,” she said. “Until they are brought home, we will not stop.”
Once again, she said, people from Morenci and the surrounding area came to give comfort to the family.
“We are blessed by all the outpouring of support,” she said.