A family’s mysterious and tragic story ended with a father allegedly murdering his two young sons and committing suicide by blowing up his Graham, Wash., rental home in the few moments he had before a social worker could help the boys.
Josh Powell, father to Charles, 7, and Braden, 5, reportedly blew up his home outside of Tacoma, Wash., just a few miles south of Seattle, within minutes of his sons’ running from a caseworker’s car to his front door on Sunday, Feb. 5. He pulled the children inside and locked the door. By the time the contract caseworker reached the door, she smelled gasoline and started pounding on the door and windows. An explosion ripped through the house. Three minutes later, when firefighters arrived on the scene, the residence was fully engulfed in flames. An autopsy revealed the father also actually tried to chop his sons with a hatchet before setting the fire.
That end, while sudden, wasn’t a stand-alone event for the Powell family. Josh Powell had been in the national spotlight ever since his wife Susan, 28, went missing from their home in West Valley City, Utah, over two years ago. Here’s a look at the events that started with a mystery on Dec. 7, 2009, in Utah and ended in tragedy on Feb. 5, 2012.
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Dec. 7, 2009: Josh and Susan Powell failed to drop off their two sons at a day care in Utah, and Susan failed to show up for work that day, sparking family members to start a search for her. Josh later told police that he left with his sons, then ages 4 and 2, in the middle of the night (a 12:30 a.m. departure, he said) and didn’t return until late in that day, well after Susan had gone missing. He said he took the boys camping at Simpson Springs Recreation Area, leaving his wife at home, where she was busily working to remove a red stain from the carpet. Temperatures reached freezing that night.
Dec. 9, 2009: Police started searching the Powell residence in West Valley City, Utah, about 10 miles (16 km) outside Salt Lake City, for any clues into Susan’s disappearance; Josh wasn’t yet named a suspect.
Dec. 10, 2009: Police searched the area where Josh said he was camping and failed to find any signs of his campsite.
Dec. 15, 2009: As officers in Utah struggled to find clues regarding Susan’s whereabouts, Josh, after retaining a defense attorney a day prior, failed to show up for his interview with police. The West Valley City police announced this development, claiming the husband was getting in the way of finding his wife.
Dec. 16, 2009: After questioning Josh yet again, police named him a person of interest in the case, a designation he held — and one that wasn’t slapped on anyone else — until he died.
Dec. 17, 2009: Chuck Cox, Susan’s father, who was living in Puyallup, Wash., spoke to reporters, saying he was saddened but not surprised that Josh was named a person of interest.
Dec. 20, 2009: Josh was seen at a candlelight vigil for his missing wife at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not in Utah. He was in Puyallup, Wash.
Jan. 8, 2010: Josh officially moved from Utah to Puyallup, where he and Susan had both grown up, taking Charles and Braden with him. While living in a house with his father, he claimed that mental illness and instability led Susan to leave the family.
Feb. 15, 2010: During a press conference, Susan’s family accused Josh of abusing her.
Nov. 8, 2010: Josh told the Salt Lake Tribune that Susan must have left under pressure from her family’s desire for her to be perfect.
Dec. 5, 2010: Josh claimed that Susan ran away with Steven Koecher, a man who disappeared from St. George, Utah, the same week in December 2009. Josh and his father Steven set up a website, susanpowell.org, that discussed this connection in depth.
Aug. 23, 2011: Susan’s father Chuck Cox and Josh showed up in court in Tacoma, where Josh claimed that Cox stalked and threatened him and his sons.
Aug. 25, 2011: Steven Powell claimed he and Susan had a sexual relationship and that he was falling in love with her. Steven, at this point in a Tacoma jail, was charged with child pornography and voyeurism, accused of videotaping women, including Susan, throughout his neighborhood while they were changing and in the bathroom.
Sept. 22, 2011: Steven was charged with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of child pornography and Josh was named a subject in the investigation, prompting Susan’s parents to file to gain custody of Charles and Braden.
Sept. 28, 2011: The Powell boys were moved to the home of Chuck and Judy Cox, but Josh was allowed supervised visits.
Feb. 1, 2012: A judge ruled that Charles and Braden had to remain in the custody of Susan’s parents, not Josh, until he underwent a pyschosexual evaluation. Josh claimed in a court document that he had proved himself “a fit and loving father who provides a stable home even in the face of great adversity” and that “it is time for my sons to come home.”
Feb. 5, 2012: Josh sent an e-mail to his custody attorney, Jeffrey Bassett, saying, “I’m sorry, goodbye,” just minutes before he set fire to his home. He had taken his boys’ toys to Goodwill over the weekend.
Feb. 5, 2012: After the alleged murder-suicide, Steve Downing, the lawyer for Susan’s parents, told the AP that the children had started talking to their grandparents about things they remembered from the night their mother vanished. “They were beginning to verbalize more,” said Downing. “The oldest boy talked about that they went camping and that Mommy was in the trunk. Mom and Dad got out of the car, and Mom disappeared.”
Feb. 5, 2012: A candlelight vigil was held for the two boys outside the oldest son’s school in Puyallup.
Feb. 6, 2012: Chuck and Judy Cox said the Powell boys didn’t want to visit their father the day before but had to because of the court order. They also called attention to a drawing by Braden depicting the boys riding in the family minivan with their father driving. When asked why their mother was not in the vehicle, Chuck said Braden told him she was in the trunk.
Feb. 6, 2012: More details emerged: Josh had sent e-mails to friends saying he couldn’t live without his boys. Also, a hatchet was recovered near the bodies inside the rental home, and the boys had chop wounds consistent with that weapon — although they died of smoke inhalation.
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