Image: Volunteers search a field in Williams County near Pioneer, Ohio
Paul Sancya  /  AP
Lisa Borton, from left, Diane Molitierno, Joyce Beatty, and Mona Leininger search a field in Williams County near Pioneer, Ohio, on Wednesday. Volunteers have fanned out to search for the three brothers who went missing from their home across the state line in Morenci, Mich. Their father faces three kidnapping charges.
NBC News and news services
updated 12/2/2010 5:42:29 PM ET 2010-12-02T22:42:29

A Michigan mayor and police chief say their small town has been humbled by tragedy but won't be satisfied until three missing brothers are home.

Morenci Mayor Keith Pennington said he was hopeful the Skelton brothers — 9-year-old Andrew, 7-year-old Alexander and 5-year-old Tanner — were alive, despite police saying they did not expect a positive outcome.

"I'm not giving up," Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks told WDIV, NBC News affiliate in Detroit, on Thursday. He mentioned having personally met each of the brothers and was touched by their joyful spirits. He said no stone would be left unturned in the search for the boys.

The boys were reported missing Friday by their mother, Tanya Skelton, after their father failed to return them after an arranged visit.

Volunteers have fanned out each day — and will head out again for a sixth day Thursday — searching the countryside around Morenci and across the border in Ohio. Hundreds have offered their time and money, including an account set up at a local bank to take donations for the family and an anonymous donor whom police say has offered a $10,000 reward for the return or recovery of the brothers.

Pennington said the boys' disappearance has riveted the community. He thanked volunteers for their support in finding the children.

"When the boys turned up missing last week, Morenci was thrust into the national spotlight in a way that very few cities of 2,000 people have ever experienced. We certainly do not welcome the circumstance of the spotlight," he said. "But I am very proud of the response that the community has given in this situation."

Pennington said he would not be satisfied until the boys were home.

"John, if you know where they are at, please tell us," the mayor pleaded to the boys' father.

A spokeswoman for the Skelton family, Kathy Herrera, read a prepared statement addressed to the community on the family' behalf. It thanked volunteers and law enforcement authorities for their dedication and compassion.

Story: Dad of 3 missing boys fights return to Michigan

Weeks has repeatedly cautioned the public that police did not have a positive outcome, but he also told reporters he simply refused to believe at this point that the children were killed.

"It is my desire to maintain hope," he said.

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Skelton appeared at a hearing Wednesday in Toledo, Ohio, where he fought extradition to Michigan. The 39-year-old unemployed long-haul truck driver, sat throughout the hearing in a wheelchair covered by a green blanket, answering the judge's yes-or-no questions in a whisper. The judge set bond at $3 million and scheduled another hearing for Dec. 14.

He was being held in a mental facility after he tried to hang himself but is now in the Lucas County Jail in Ohio.

'Have to have hope'
Students and teachers at Morenci Elementary, where the brothers attended, remembered and struggled to deal with the uncertainty.

Image: John Skelton
Paul Sancya  /  AP
John Skelton appeared at a extradition hearing in Lucas County Court in Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday.

The principal and teachers said the three boys were caring and sweet, and students in Tanner's kindergarden class drew pictures for him, The Detroit Free Press reported.

In the more than 30 years of teaching, Tanner's teacher Janet Rawlins said she had never had a sweeter student.

"I have to have hope," Rawlins told the newspaper. "I still pray every day that they find them and that they're OK."

Video: 'Positive outcome' not expected for missing boys (on this page)

Teachers were also dealing with questions from curious children, Mary Fisher, principal at Morenci Elementary, told the newspaper.

"It's snowing out, aren't they cold?" children were asking her she said. "How are they staying warm? Where are they?"

Adults were trying to be honest with the children, Fisher told the newspaper, telling them that the brothers were missing and letting the students discuss their feelings. Authorities were also providing social workers, she said.

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Helping decorate the church
At the United Methodist Church in Morenci, the Rev. Donna Galloway found herself correcting her speech about the brothers as she described them. "They were very vital and important — they are — a very vital and important part of our church," she said.

She recalled the boys and their estranged parents helping decorate the church and a nearby park for the Christmas season on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

"Andrew said to me, 'With the park all lit up and church all lit up, we're going to light up the town,'" Galloway, who also serves as the chaplain for the Morenci Fire Department, said.

"It was a good day, it was a family day, for all of us at the church. That light — and the season of light — is what we're holding on to," she added.

That was the last time Galloway saw the family together.

The following Friday, Tanya Skelton reported the boys missing when their father didn't return them. Police say he tried to hang himself and that he lied to investigators when he said he first gave the boys to a female acquaintance to hand over to their mother.

Tanya Skelton, 44, filed for divorce in September. A judge gave her custody of the boys, but she and John Skelton reached an agreement on visitation.

Police say Tanya Skelton's family has asked for their privacy.

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Galloway said she has spoken with Tanya Skelton since the boys' disappearance, and that she thinks it's absurd when people ask how Skelton's doing.

"How would you be doing?" Galloway said. "She wants her boys home. We all want her boys home. She's a mom."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 'Positive outcome' not expected for missing boys

  1. Closed captioning of: 'Positive outcome' not expected for missing boys

    >> based on the information that we, woo do not anticipate a positive outcome here. we continued to talk to virtually all parties involved in this investigation, including statements that he made to investigators would indicate that it's not going to be a positive outcome.

    >> i'm squoined now by investigative crime reporter michelle sigona. michelle, this is a major development here.

    >> this is a major development, this is very tragic news. to think that something someone could have done something to these three boys, but the search is op going. just moments ago i got off the phone with investigators and they are out there and are still combing the area and looking for any signs of where these children may be. what's interesting, the parents were going through a divorce and a lot of times in these divorce situations, unfortunately, especially when things are heated during custody disputes one parent is trying to get back at the other parent and that may possibly be the case in this because the mother was awarded custody back in september and the father had visitation rights .


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