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Volunteers to comb desert for Powell
Missing » But WVC police warn against it, saying, 'We've spent several thousand hours [searching the area].'

By Melinda Rogers

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published March 16, 2010 5:26 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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As the search for missing West Valley City mother Susan Powell inches toward its fourth month, a formal ground search to locate the 28-year-old woman is taking shape.

A group of Cache County residents has announced plans to search for Powell in Utah's west desert on April 10.

The search area will be near the region where Powell's husband, Joshua Powell, told police he went camping with the couple's two young boys the night his wife disappeared.

Volunteers will be organized into teams and assigned an area to search.

"There are several roads in the area, but most of the searching will be done on foot over some hill country and flatlands," the news release states.

The West Valley City Police Department said the area is dangerous and volunteer searchers may put themselves at risk going over an area already thoroughly investigated.

"We have had teams of trained officers both in the air and on the ground and underground searching the area. We've spent several thousand hours [searching the area]," said West Valley City police Capt. Tom McLachlan.

"The problem with a public search is that it is a vast area. It is an area that is very wild and remote, and somebody who is relatively untrained can go out there and get hurt and help is a long ways away," he said.

The group plans to stage a command post south of Tooele and west of Vernon at the Simpson Springs campground where search groups will "be sent out to different areas to cover as much ground as possible from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.," according to a news release posted on "The Friends and Family of Susan Powell" Facebook page.

McLachlan said police will be in touch with volunteer search organizers to warn them of potential problems they may face and provide advice on what they should do if coming in contact with anything "of a dangerous or suspicious nature."

He said the location of the Powell search is near the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground, where military weapons are tested. He said Dugway Proving Ground officials warned West Valley City police to be careful when they conducted their investigation of the area during the winter and that volunteer searchers need to be aware of hazards.

"The potential for possible unexploded military ammunitions is higher than in other areas," McLachlan said.

Some Utahns, however, are still eager to help in the search.

Chris Willden, of Bountiful, contacted West Valley City police in December, shortly after Powell was reported missing, to ask if he could assist in any volunteer search. The Police Department said it wasn't organizing volunteer search parties, he said.

Willden's company, Strategic Tactical Group, will join others to hunt for Powell next month. Willden has participated in searches for a missing Uintah County Boy Scout and for 5-year-old Destiny Norton, a Salt Lake City girl found dead in her neighbor's home in 2006. He said he's hopeful volunteers may find Powell.

"We're trying to find closure for the family, or at least eliminate one place possible that law enforcement and family will have to worry about [searching]," said Willden, who will bring a trailer, pop-up tent for shelter, communication devices, first aid materials, four-wheelers and other search materials.

Bill Greenhalgh, who owns a Salt Lake City-area ATV service and repair business, has also organized a group of his friends to participate in the search. He said he has a friend with a ranch seven miles west of the area that volunteers will comb. He said he will bring GPS units, two-way radios and other equipment to head out into the west desert.

"I really care about people and that issues like this eat me up. I never quit thinking about this. I know the area fairly well and just hope we can help," Greenhalgh said.

"We will search. That's what we all do because we care. Not just me, millions of others as well. It all boils down to finding Susan. We need to do this for her, her family, her children, for all the other people who care," Greenhalgh said.

Shelby Gifford, a spokeswoman for Susan Powell's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, in Puyallup, Wash., said the family continues to appreciate the public's support.

"We are happy people want to help us search for Susan and hope anyone who chooses to participate will respect police guidelines and safety measures," Gifford wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday.

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Case background

Susan Powell, 28, was reported missing Dec. 7.

Police have said Joshua Powell told them he last saw his wife at 12:30 a.m. that day, when he left their West Valley City home to go camping with their two young sons in Utah's west desert. Joshua Powell remains the only person of interest publicly named by police in the case.

He has rented out the West Valley City house and moved to his and his wife's hometown of Puyallup, Wash.



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