Published November 29, 2015
Investigators say the father of three missing Michigan boys lied when he said he gave his children to a female friend named "Joann Taylor" before he attempted suicide.
Morenci Police Department Chief Larry Weeks said Monday that there is "no established relationship" between John Skelton and the woman he claims to have left his sons with before trying to kill himself last week.
The children -- 5-year-old Tanner, 7-year-old Alexander and 9-year-old Andrew Skelton -- were last seen Thursday and reported missing the next day by their mother, Tanya Skelton.
A family friend said the boys were with their father as part of a court-ordered visitation and their parents were going through a divorce.
John Skelton, 39, claims that he gave his sons to a friend named "Joann Taylor." He said that he met Taylor several years ago and the two had been involved in an online relationship, and she likely lived in southern Michigan.
But Weeks said Monday that he can confirm that "there's no established relationship between he and the person he described to us as Joann Taylor."
When asked by reporters if Skelton lied about such a relationship, Weeks replied: "Correct."
When Tanya Skelton filed for divorce in September, the father of the three boys picked two of them up from school early and drove out of state.
On Sept. 13, Skelton packed his two oldest sons in the family van and drove to nearby Ohio -- only to return and then take off with them again to Florida.
It was the start of a nasty custody battle and possible precursor to all three boys' disappearance last week before their dad's suicide attempt.
Lenawee County Circuit Judge Margaret Noe told The Associated Press that Tanya Skelton received exclusive custody after John Skelton returned from Florida with the boys, but the couple subsequently negotiated an agreement that allowed visitation.
Authorities resumed an all-out search for the boys on Monday, assisted by fixed-wing aircraft. FoxToledo.com reported that the hunt for the boys shifted to Ohio, where more than 300 volunteers converged on the Lazy River Campground -- just west of Pioneer -- to look for the children.
Weeks said investigators are looking for anyone who saw the three boys in their father's 2000 blue Dodge Caravan on Thursday or Friday along the Michigan-Ohio border. The FBI says there's evidence the vehicle was seen during that time on the Ohio Turnpike.
The vehicle has Michigan license plate number 9JQ H93 and may have been in the Pioneer, Unity, West Unity, Holiday City, Ohio, areas between 2:30 p.m. Thursday and 1:30 p.m. Friday, according to FoxToledo.com.
A prayer vigil was held for the boys Sunday night after the conclusion of that day's search of fields, farmland and wooded areas along the Ohio-Michigan border.
John Skelton, meanwhile, was being treated at a hospital in Ohio for "mental health issues" after he tried to hang himself on Friday.
FBI child abduction teams and behavioral science experts, along with planes and search dogs, aided in the search Sunday.
That night, about 200 people gathered for a prayer vigil at a church in Morenci, a small, mostly blue-collar and farming community just north of the Ohio state line. Lights were strung on poles along the town's main street, and festive decorations adorned windows in some of the shops and eateries in town.
Friends said the Skelton boys also started celebrating the holidays early by making greeting cards. One of the older brothers wrote "Jesus is awesome" on his and drew a Nativity scene, said Kathye Herrera, a friend of Tanya Skelton who is serving as the family's spokeswoman.
"They love church. They love the interaction, and they know all about Jesus," Herrera said.
Herrera said the boys' parents have been married for 10 years but are in the process of getting a divorce. She said that earlier this year, John Skelton picked his two older sons up from school and took them to Florida, but later returned to Michigan.
Custody was awarded to Tanya Skelton, though John Skelton "had been seeing the boys with no issues," Herrera said.
Herrera said Tanya Skelton attends a local college or community college and John Skelton was a long-haul truck driver who hasn't been working in while.
John Skelton's mother, Roxann Skelton of Jacksonville, Fla., told the Detroit Free Press that her son wouldn't hurt his children. She didn't return a phone message from The Associated Press.
"I know my son, he's not a monster," she told the newspaper. "He's a good son and he would not harm his boys. I know those children are, you know, still with us."
The weekend search for the boys extended to an Ohio state park just south of the Michigan state line, according to the sheriff's office in Fulton County, Ohio. The FBI got involved Friday, shortly after being contacted by Michigan authorities, said Andrew Arena, head of the agency's Detroit office.
Many of those who attended Sunday night's vigil tried to hold back tears, though others allowed them to flow freely. As "Silent Night" and other Christmas hymns played, people filed slowly past the altar, lighting small white candles before returning to the pews to continue prayers for the boys' safe return.
"Give us courage to face our fears," church Lay Leader Bob Dister said as part of a short prayer before leading into "The Lord's Prayer."
He wept as the vigil ended.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.