By KOMO STAFF and Associated PressPublished: Feb 5, 2012 at 9:57 PM PST
GRAHAM, Wash. – A powerful explosion and fire at the home of Josh Powell killed him and his two young sons Sunday, authorities said, more than two years after Powell’s wife Susan vanished under suspicious circumstances.
The explosion shook the normally quiet cul-de-sac neighborhood where Powell had been living. It came just moments after a caseworker had brought Powell’s two young sons, Charles, 7, and Braden, 5, there for a supervised visit.
Flames roared through the home near the intersection of 182nd Street and 84th Avenue after the 12:30 p.m. explosion.
Firefighters rushed to the scene after receiving multiple frantic 911 calls, where they found two young victims and an adult male victim. All were found in the same room in the middle of the house, said Sgt. Ed Troyer, Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman.
Troyer said emails Powell sent to authorities seemed to confirm that Powell planned the deadly blast. Troyer didn’t elaborate on the contents of the emails, but said they make police believe “this is intentional, this is planned … this is a double murder-suicide.”
Authorities were removing three bodies from the home Sunday evening as fire crews and police continued to search the rubble. Troyer said it appeared some sort of accelerant was used to make the house burn faster.
Powell’s wife Susan disappeared in December 2009 under suspicious circumstances while the couple was living in Utah, and he lost custody of his two sons last year.
A social worker brought the two boys to Josh Powell’s home Sunday for what was to be a supervised visit. They rushed toward the home, leaving the social worker behind. By the time she got to the door, Powell had let his sons in but locked her out, Graham Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Franz told The Associated Press.
The case worker reported smelling gas fumes, and suddenly an explosion ripped through the home just as the caseworker went to her car to report Powell’s actions to a supervisor.
A lawyer for Josh Powell says he received a three-word email from his client just minutes before the explosion. It said, “I’m sorry, goodbye.”
Attorney Jeffrey Bassett tells The Associated Press the email arrived at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, but he didn’t see it until two hours later, when others informed him of the blast. He says he knew Josh was upset after being ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation recently, but he didn’t see this coming.
Authorities later said Josh Powell also sent emails with a similar “goodbye” message to a few family members.
Steve Downing, a lawyer for the boys’ maternal grandparents, says they are beyond devastated. They always feared Josh would do something like this.
Downing told the AP the children had started talking to their grandparents about things they remembered from the night their mother vanished.
“They were beginning to verbalize more,” he said. “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.”
Sgt. Mike Powell of the West Valley City Police Department in Utah said it was too soon to say how Josh Powell’s death may impact their probe.
“Quite frankly, this has obviously quickly unfolded up in Washington and we’re obviously just working through the details ourselves here,” said Powell, who is not related to the family.
Powell did not return a telephone message later in the evening Sunday regarding the children’s assertion that their mother had been in the trunk of the family’s car on the night she disappeared.
Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a statement saying, “I am deeply saddened by reports that two young children, Charles and Braden Powell, lost their life today in a terrible tragedy. My heart is heavy with their loss and my thoughts go out to the children’s family, friends, and schoolmates. “This is a very sad day.”
The sudden and tragic development was the latest in a dizzying series of twists in the case of missing mom Susan Powell.
Just last week a Pierce County judge had ruled that Powell’s two young sons must remain in the custody of Susan Powell’s parents.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn J. Nelson also ruled that Josh Powell must undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation and polygraph test before he could regain custody of his sons. But he was allowed two supervised visits a week.
Powell told police he last saw his wife Susan at about midnight on Dec. 7, 2009, just before he and the couple’s young sons – then 4 and 2 – headed out for a winter camping trip in subfreezing temperatures in the Utah desert.
Since then, Josh Powell has been the only named person of interest in connection with her disappearance.
Powell and his two sons moved to Puyallup, where he and Susan grew up, after she vanished.
The three of them lived with his father, Steven Powell, for a time. But in a bizarre twist, Steven Powell was arrested for voyeurism and child pornography last September. After that, Josh Powell lost custody of his sons and they had been in the care of Susan Powell’s parents.
Steven Powell, meanwhile, is in jail awaiting trial. Troyer said after Steven Powell was informed of his son’s and grandsons’ deaths, he “called us some names” and didn’t say anything else. He has been placed on suicide watch.
The caseworker who brought Powell’s young sons to his home was a provider under contract to the state Department of Social and Health Services.
“The visit supervisor for this particular agency had taken the children to the home. When she does that, she sits through the visit and might take notes on her observations,” said Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services. “She pulled up in the car, and the kids ran out ahead of her. He closed the door and locked it. She wasn’t able to get in, and that’s when she smelled gas.”
Another DSHS official, Denise Revels Robinson, said the caseworker wasn’t injured, but was traumatized by the events.
We were relieved to learn that the caseworker was not physically injured but understand that she is suffering from grave emotional trauma as a result of the horrific event,” she said. “The sadness of such a thing touches everyone involved with these children.”
Kirk Graves, 39, of West Jordan, Utah, Josh Powell’s brother-in-law, said he and his wife, Jennifer, were stunned by the explosion and sudden deaths.
“It’s a shock. A total complete shock,” he said. “We never contemplated the idea he would do something like this. You just don’t expect it from a father.”
Kirk Graves said he and his wife think Josh Powell deliberately set off the explosion to kill him and his sons.
“His world was falling apart around him and he was going to lose his boys and get arrested for Susan’s disappearance,” he said. “He’s a narcissist and he has no love for anyone but himself.
The day of the child custody hearing last Wednesday, Josh Powell submitted a six-page affidavit attesting to his love of the boys and his competence as a caregiver and insisting that it was time for the boys to come home.
“For over four months already, my interactions with my sons and many other aspects of my character have been investigated and documented by CPS,” he wrote. “I have proven myself as a fit and loving father who provides a stable home even in the face of great adversity. … It is time for my sons to come home.”
By Sunday night, there was a growing memorial to the slain Powell boys at the elementary school they attended in Puyallup. Dozens of people gathered at Carson Elementary to place candles, stuffed animals, balloons and messages out front. Among them was Denise Cox, the sister of the boys’ missing mother, Susan Powell.
By KOMO STAFF and Associated PressPublished: Feb 5, 2012 at 9:57 PM PST