Thirty people gathered Sunday evening (Nov. 28) outside the Pioneer Community Center in Pioneer, ohio, to pray for three missing Michigan boys.

Monday morning, they came back to do more, and many more came with them, the Sandusky Register reported.

When Morenci Police Chief Larry J. Weeks announced Monday morning the ongoing search for 9-year-old Andrew, 7-year-old Alexander and 5-year-old Tanner Skelton would shift to Williams County, more than 200 volunteers stepped forward.

Pam Carpenter, a mother of two from Morenci, met every one of them at the registration desk inside the local community center.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “It’s a blessing, really. It’s what small towns do for each other. We have 232 volunteers in Morenci and another 200 here.”

They had little to do but watch airplanes and helicopters throughout the morning. Faces turned upward like sunflowers, following each circle in the coverleaf search pattern overhead.

On the ground, police and firefighters searched local campgrounds – Lazy River Campground among them – frequented by the family in happier times.

The children were reported missing Friday morning, after a court-ordered visitation with their father John Skelton, 39.

They were last seen Thursday in their father’s backyard in the 100 block of Morenci’s East Congress Street, and reported missing by their mother, Tanya, also of Morenci.

John and Tanya Skelton have been married 10 years, though they currently are in divorce proceedings. Tanya had custody of the children.

During the initial investigation, Skelton claimed he handed the children over to Joann Taylor, a woman he met via the Internet, before attempting to hang himself in his home. He claimed he instructed her to take them to his mother, Roxann Skelton of Jacksonville, Fla.

According to Weeks, that relationship was a fabrication.

“We cannot say that Joann Taylor does not exist,” he said, “but we found no proof that he had a relationship with anyone by that name.”

Skelton remained under treatment at an undisclosed mental health facility in Ohio, and had been cooperating with investigators, he said.

According to Weeks, Skelton was known to have driven from the Ohio Turnpike, through Holiday City and West Unity Thursday evening, in a 2000 blue Dodge Caravan with a missing gas cap.

Firefighters and volunteers broke into small teams to retrace the entire route on foot from the Turnpike exit.

“We don’t really know what we’re looking for,” said Cambridge Township, Mich., Fire Chief Scott Damon, who has helped organize searches since Friday. “The word we got from law enforcement is that he dumped the kids somewhere along that route. We’re looking for any kind of evidence that will assist the authorities.”

North Central school buses shuttled the search teams, mile by mile, on U.S. 15 through Holiday City, west on U.S. 20A to West Unity, north on U.S. 127 to Morenci Road, Mich., and east all the way back to Morenci.

While foot soldiers searched ditches, creeks and culverts along the road side, volunteers on all-terrain vehicles probed wooded areas.

“It’s opening day of gun season,” Pioneer Police Chief Tim Livengood said before the volunteers were launched. “That complicates things.”

His concern was for their personal safety, but local law enforcement was stretched thin investigating latex gloves and bloody rags along the entire route, all remains of the deer season.

The search intensified early Monday afternoon at Ace Corners, the intersection of U.S. 15 and Ohio 107, south of Holiday City.

Observers reported an apparent “shallow grave” dug in a grove of trees on the empty lot northwest of the intersection.

Pioneer police, Williams County sheriff’s deputies and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents converged on the scene and searched the area for more than an hour.

The hole was approximately 4-feet long, 2-feet wide and 3-feet deep. They found no evidence. It may or may not be connected to the disappearance.

The search concluded at dusk, with no additional information.

Throughout the day, Mary Ann Slater, senior human resources manager with Kamco Industries, West Unity, shuttled pizza from local vendors to the Pioneer fire station.

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