MORENCI, Mich. (AP) " Neighbors of three Michigan boys who were last seen the day before their father tried to commit suicide are holding onto hope that the children will be found safe, even though investigators believe the boys are in "extreme danger."
Police in Morenci, about 75 miles southwest of Detroit, plan to resume their search Monday for 5-year-old Tanner, 7-year-old Alexander and 9-year-old Andrew Skelton. A prayer vigil was held for the boys Sunday night after the FBI, police and numerous volunteers scoured fields, farmland and wooded areas near the Ohio-Michigan border.APvideo
The boys' father, 39-year-old John Skelton, was being treated at a hospital in Ohio for "mental health issues" after he tried to hang himself Friday, Police Chief Larry Weeks said. When asked if Skelton was a suspect in his sons' disappearance, Weeks said: "We haven't ruled anything out yet."
Authorities said John Skelton claimed that he gave the boys to a female friend before he attempted suicide, but officers haven't been able to confirm whether the woman exists.
The boys were last seen Thursday and reported missing the next day by their mother, Tanya Skelton, Weeks said. A family friend said the boys were with their father as part of court-ordered visitation and their parents were going through a divorce.
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."
Authorities said John Skelton told investigators Friday that he wanted the boys out of his house when he committed suicide, and asked a woman named Joann Taylor to take them to their mother. John Skelton claimed 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 officers haven't been able to find a woman by that name or the silver van that Skelton said she was driving.
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, each 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.
Associated Press writers Jeannie Nuss in Columbus, Ohio, and David N. Goodman in Detroit contributed to this story.Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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