Three missing brothers personal for Morenci residentsWritten by Kristen Criswell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For a town of fewer than 2,400 people, three missing boys are a personal affair.
“This isn’t a big city tragedy, this is a small town, and those boys aren’t just pictures on a paper; the people here know these boys,” said Kevin Lehr, a youth pastor from the West Rome Baptist Church in Manitou Beach.
The boys everyone in Morenci is focused on are Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton, the elementary school students who have been missing since the day after Thanksgiving.
Lehr was among hundreds of volunteers who traveled to Morenci to help search — with some coming from as far as Tennessee and West Virginia. Many other volunteers were locals who know the boys or their family.
K.C. Carter, a retired music teacher, taught 9-year-old Andrew in class as a kindergartner. Last week, she was stomping across the frozen ground searching for a sign of him.
While walking the frozen ground, firefighters leading the search crews told Carter to look for toys, clothes and loose dirt patterns — anything suspicious in the woods. She found a child’s swimming pool, but to her relief, nothing was beneath it. By Thursday, Carter decided to sign up volunteers rather than search.
“I do not want to be the one to find them,” Carter said. “I do not want to see little Andrew like that. I do not want to see a little hand. I hope they’re not going to be found like that. I hope that they’re alive and they’re going to be found.”
Carter described Andrew as always eager to learn, sing and play games. His mother, Tanya, who Carter worked with, was equally helpful. Whenever anything needed done at school, she would reach out, Carter said.
Earlier in the day at a news conference, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks shared a personal story about Andrew.
“I was at their house on one occasion, and Andrew came out and he saw me and he said, ‘Hey, Chief! How you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m good. How are you?’ He said, ‘Just a minute.’ And he ran back in the house, and he came back out and he had one of these toy police vests and cap, and he looks at me and says, ‘I’m going to be a police officer like you someday,’ ” Weeks said.
Perhaps in another galaxy, he would aspire to be a Jedi. Andrew is into all things “Star Wars,” said Mary Fisher, the dean of students at Morenci Elementary School. His other love is country music singer Darius Rucker, she added.
“He’s a great kid. Happy. Always gets along with his friends,” Fisher said.
The brothers, who are two years apart in age — Andrew, 9, Alex, 7, and Tanner, 5 — are very close, said Janet Rollins, Tanner’s developmental kindergarten teacher.
Every day, Alex walked Tanner to his classroom, helped him take off his jacket and unload his backpack. The boys would then hug and say, ‘See you after school,’ Rollins said. Alex would also make sure his younger brother made it to the office to take his inhaler after lunch.
Alex, who is in a literacy class with Rollins four days a week, is always eager to be the first to read. He also loves camping and fishing, a subject he writes about in his school journal, Fisher said.
“(Alex) ends everything in the journal with ‘It was fun,’ ” she said.
Tanner also loves camping, but spoke often about four-wheeling as well, Rollins said.
Rollins said Tanner played and shared with everyone, both boys and girls. The bond with his classmates is evident in a little green book held together by plastic binding. Rollins had the kids doodle pictures of Tanner and themselves playing, along with a sentence about what they want to do when Tanner comes back.
“Tanner is my friend. We play outside,” one states. “I love Tanner and he loves me,” reads another, below two big green stick-people with smiley faces.
Tanner does a lot of drawing himself — his specialty is a dinosaur, Rollins said.
He often asked for his pictures to be displayed on the bulletin board.
For Halloween this year, unlike her other male students wanting to be Superman or Spider-Man, Tanner was Bob the Builder, Rollins said.
The 14 children in Tanner’s developmental kindergarten class haven’t been asking a lot of questions about the search, but will be in the middle of an activity and say, “I really miss Tanner,” Rollins said.
“They don’t talk about it a lot, other than saying they really miss Tanner,” Rollins said. “But they’re quieter and need a lot more hugs right now.”
To help the younger children cope, Rollins led a group discussion with the children sharing what they like about Tanner.
“I started the sharing session by saying I like to watch Tanner run,” Rollins said. “He’ll ask me to watch him run outside at recess, but you have to say ‘flash,’ then he’ll run really fast. Pretty soon all my boys will be running back and forth for me.”
Older students have taken the news differently. Some have drawn pictures with RIP signs scribbled into the paper, Fisher said.
“We have a collection of pictures to take over to Tanya,” she said. “It’s processing for the children. We had some pictures (Tanya) will never get because some kids have already processed this all the way — the child’s missing and the kids have thought maybe they’re already dead … We just had the loss of 14-year-old (Collin Fletcher) six or seven weeks ago, and that’s still fresh in everyone’s minds.”
The school has extra counselors on hand as well as the Lenawee County Crisis Response Team if the students need to talk, Fisher said.
The boys were last seen with their father, John Skelton. He is being held on a $3 million bond in the Lucas County Jail on three kidnapping charges related to the boys’ disappearance.
Skelton had previously been at a mental health facility after attempting suicide at his home in Morenci about the time the boys were last seen.
Volunteer searches concluded Friday, while police and fire will continue as leads are developed, Weeks has announced.
“The one thing that this has done is brought out the best of humanity in the worst of times,” Carter said.
Caitlin McGlade contributed to this report