Six days of searching, still no clues 2010.12.08

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

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.

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