Hometown of Missing Michigan Boys Tries to Keep Hope

These undated photos provided by The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children show the Skelton brothers.

These undated photos provided by The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children show the Skelton brothers.  (AP)

MORENCI, Mich. -- Megan Nagy had kept quiet when she heard people whispering in the pizza shop where she works that the three missing brothers from the small Michigan town are dead.

It was a Facebook post from a friend -- "RIP missing Morenci boys" -- that finally prompted her to respond to the rumors that the Skelton brothers, last seen on Thanksgiving, wouldn't be found alive.

"Please don't say RIP," the 19-year-old and another friend responded. "We all need to keep hope."

It's a theme being repeated throughout Morenci, where the fate of 9-year-old Andrew, 7-year-old Alexander and 5-year-old Tanner has gripped those living in and around the community of about 2,000 residents 75 miles southwest of Detroit. Their father, John Skelton, faces three kidnapping charges, and Morenci police Chief Larry Weeks has said Skelton hasn't said much about where the boys might be.

Weeks has cautioned the public that police do not expect "a positive outcome," but he also told reporters he simply refuses to believe at this point that the children were killed.

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

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.

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.

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.

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."

Adam Johnson, who lives next door to John Skelton, said he was among the last people to see the boys. He and his wife, Gail, had company over and were putting coolers on the back porch.

"Two of the boys were playing out back. They called to me and I said, `Hi,"' said Johnson, 69.

Whatever might have happened last week, Johnson said he never saw anything that concerned him. He said he often saw the boys playing loudly and happily on bikes, in a backyard playhouse and even in the dirt.

"He seemed to be very caring around the boys," Johnson said. "I never saw him really yell at the boys."