MORENCI, Mich. —The search for three young Michigan brothers darkened Tuesday as authorities warned the public to expect the worst and charged the children's father with their kidnapping.
Despite the somber news, a small army of volunteers spent a fourth day scouring cornfields, campgrounds and wooded areas near Morenci, a small community 75 miles southwest of Detroit along the border with Ohio, looking for the smallest scrap of evidence.
Searcher Bill Foster said everyone in the town of 2,000 was hoping for a "Christmas miracle" and the safe return of 9-year-old Andrew, 7-year-old Alexander and 5-year-old Tanner Skelton, who were last seen at their father's home on Thanksgiving.
Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks' admission Tuesday that police don't expect a "positive outcome" to the case after talking to the boys' father, 39-year-old John Skelton, is not what you want to hear, Foster said.
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"We're very saddened by the news, but the search has to continue. We won't quit the search until we bring the boys home."
Locals began combing through fields and woods on Saturday, the day after the boys' mother reported them missing and the day after John Skelton tried to hang himself.
Skelton, who was released from a medical facility in Lucas County, Ohio, on Tuesday, initially told investigators that he gave his sons to a female acquaintance to hand over to his estranged wife. Police say he was lying.
The FBI arrested Skelton after his release Tuesday, and he was charged in Lenawee County, across the state line in Michigan, with three counts of parental kidnapping, Weeks said. Weeks said Skelton has requested an attorney, and his officers had not spoken to Skelton on Tuesday.
Tanya Skelton, 45, filed for divorce in September. A judge gave her custody of the boys, but she and John Skelton reached an agreement on visitation.
Lee Ann Underhill, a Morenci resident who knows Tanya Skelton and the boys, searched for them between her overnight shift at a plastics factory and a few hours' sleep.
"I've been through fields, creek beds and woods," Underhill said after returning from a search Tuesday afternoon. "We're looking for anything out of the ordinary."
The search is expected to continue for at least several more days, and then whenever a tip comes in, authorities said.
Lenawee Sheriff's Department Corporal Jeff Paterson said he was part of a large group that scoured an 83-acre campsite in Ohio on Monday that's a few miles south of Morenci.
"There were three ponds, sewage lagoons, then a wooded area with a creek," he said. Several barns in the area also were searched.