Mother of Three Missing Michigan Boys Holds Hope They're Alive

Mother of Three Missing Michigan Boys Holds Hope They're Alive
Tanner, 5, Andrew, 9, and Alexander Skelton, 7
Courtesy Tanya Skelton

01/24/2011 AT 07:15 PM EST

Nearly two months after three Morenci, Mich., brothers disappeared, the children's mother holds hope they'll be found safe.

"In my heart, I feel that they are still alive, and I just am waiting for the right clue or tip to come in, or for their father to finally decide to tell who he gave the children to," Tanya Skelton, 44, says in an interview with PEOPLE.

The boys' dad, John Skelton, 39, told police several accounts about what he did with 5-year-old Tanner, 7-year-old Alexander and 9-year-old Andrew the day after Thanksgiving.

He said he gave them to a pastor's wife named Joann Taylor because he was going to commit suicide. Then he said he gave them to an "organization."



Then he got a lawyer and stopped talking.

After investigating various leads, Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks on Nov. 30 announced that police "do not expect a positive outcome here." More than a month later, Weeks tells PEOPLE his expectation "remains the same, and we're certainly skeptical about any stories or information that (the father) puts out there."

Mother Traumatized

Tanya says that after the boys disappeared that "my blood pressure went through the roof" and she spent two days sedated in the hospital.

Mother of Three Missing Michigan Boys Holds Hope They're Alive| Crime & Courts, John Skelton

Tanya and John Skelton

Erik Gable / The Daily Telegram / AP; Lucas County Sheriff's Dept. / AP

"When I finally came back to the world, it wasn't with thoughts that they were gone but that they are alive and I need to find them," she says.

But she clings the belief her estranged husband didn't harm her children. She says the John Skelton she lived with for 10 years would cook, play games and wrestle with his kids the second he came home from his truck driving job, and sometimes he'd bring one or two of his sons on a delivery.

She adds Skelton is a nonviolent man who doesn't even like to argue. He never so much as hit the boys, she says, and she can't imagine he'd do worse.

"If I'd want an argument, he'd say calmly, 'We're done,' and then we'd work things out," she says.

She thinks that Skelton isn't talking because he's protecting whomever has the boys; that person, she adds, is being careful not to let the boys be seen together because police are looking for three brothers.

"They're going to bring them out one at a time," she says.

Skelton is in custody on charges of kidnapping and of contempt of court for withholding information on the boys' whereabouts. He could get up to three years on the kidnapping, and can be held indefinitely on the latter charge.

His attorney, John Glaser, says his client doesn't have any comment for the media.

Odd Behavior

Tanya Skelton says John started acting strangely last September, after he took the boys out of school for a trip to Florida, saying he hoped to relocate there. She says little Tanner hid behind her as she tried to stop Skelton from leaving, and she had to go to court in Florida to compel him to return to Michigan with Alexander and Andrew.

She says she then filed for divorce only to secure primary custody and block John from moving the boys out of the area, and that she then went into counseling with him with hopes of keeping the family together.

"I wanted it to work," she says. "I wanted that happy family of five again."

Tanya says she agreed to let John have the boys for Thanksgiving never imagining they wouldn't be returned.

"The deeper and longer it goes," she says, her voice breaking, "the more I realize this isn't the man I fell in love with."

"I should be tucking my boys into bed and reading them stories, and not lying awake at night thinking about what happened," she says. "It's so hard that we're coming up on two months and nobody is coming forward. It's hard – and it hurts."

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