Ely, Nev. • The search for Susan Cox Powell has taken police to this eastern Nevada mining community, where they say they will search the area Friday based on a lead in the missing West Valley City mother's case.
West Valley police Sgt. Mike Powell said investigators developed new information "fairly recently" they deemed substantial enough to warrant a full-scale search starting Friday morning. He would only say the new information is "credible" and "important."
Police are planning to hold a 10 a.m. news conference to discuss the search, which was expected to last all day and possibly extend into Saturday morning, said Mike Powell, who is not related to Susan Powell. White Pine County Sheriff Dan Watts said Thursday he knows little about the West Valley City investigation or where police will search.
"I know about as much as you," he told Utah reporters as they arrived in his parking lot Thursday afternoon, creating a buzz through this small, rugged mining town that sits at about 6,300 feet elevation. The town's share of tough times has left it surrounded by abandoned mine tunnels and shafts, and with many boarded-up houses.
Chuck Cox, Susan Powell's father, said Thursday he learned from news reporters there had been a development in the case. He said it was not unusual for West Valley City police to not notify him on tips they have received since his daughter's December 2009 disappearance but he would have liked a heads up, given the media attention the break is garnering.
"I would have liked to have known beforehand that they were going to have a press conference," said Cox from his home in Puyallup, Wash. But he reiterated his confidence in police, saying that the Nevada investigation shows him that police are "doing their job" in working the case.
Cox said he called investigators but they "couldn't say what it was" they were checking. Cox also said police did not tell him whether they suspected his daughter was alive or dead, nor did they give him any impression about how strong they felt about the new information in terms of any breakthrough.
Susan Powell's father-in-law, Steven Powell, said Thursday from his Puyallup home that West Valley City police haven't contacted him or his son about their investigation in Nevada. He again speculated the lead is another clue that his daughter-in-law ran away with missing Utah man Steven Koecher.
Koecher, who was reported missing within days of Susan Powell in 2009, reportedly traveled between Wendover and St. George shortly before he stopped communicating with family and friends. Koecher's family and West Valley City police have previously said the two cases are not linked.
Mike Powell on Thursday said Susan Powell's husband, Josh, remains a "person of interest" in her disappearance.
"Josh Powell has been a person of interest since the very beginning of this case," he said. "It is fair to say we haven't lost any interest in Josh, that he still remains a person of interest."
Susan Powell was last seen Dec. 6, 2009, and was reported missing Dec. 7. The Coxes have said their daughter's husband was abusive and that she would never leave her children Charlie, now 6, and Braden, now 4. Josh Powell's sister, Jennifer Graves, also has publicly said she doubts her brother's story and believes he has something to do with his wife's disappearance.
Police have said Josh Powell told them he took the couple's sons camping in Utah's west desert about 12:30 a.m. the day his wife disappeared, leaving her at the family's West Valley City home. They have also said Josh Powell, 34, rented a car two days later that he put hundreds of miles on.
Ely is almost due west of the search area and about 250 miles from Salt Lake City. The economy in this archetypical Western town of 5,000 is on the rebound, as witnessed by the "No Vacancy" signs outside Ely's dozen or so inns.
On Thursday, the town was alive with activity unrelated to the West Valley City police's planned search. Summer vacationers, including motorcyclists, were in the area on their tour of old Nevada mining and ghost towns. And Friday, the White Pine County Fair kicks off. Additionally, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, football squad is in town to practice in cooler temperatures.
Steven Powell said his son has no plans to travel to Nevada. Josh Powell and his children now live with Steven Powell in his hometown of Puyallup. Steven Powell said he's skeptical about whether his daughter-in-law has actually been found.
"How many times have we found a body and said, 'We think it's Susan?' They've got to show us they've really got something," Steven Powell said. "Josh is the same way. He has talked to a couple people this morning and said 'I'll believe it when I see it.' "
As the Ely search gets under way, Cox and others in Puyallup and West Valley City plan to hand out fliers to remind the public that 28-year-old Susan Powell is still missing.
Kiirsi Hellewell, a friend and neighbor of Susan Powell, said the group had already been planning the flier campaign when new information about Powell's case came to light Thursday.
"I was blindsided by this this morning. It was as much news to us as everyone else," she said of the development in Powell's case. She said volunteers will pass out fliers with Powell's image from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday in West Valley City.
Cox will spearhead a similar flier campaign in Puyallup, he said. The campaign had been in the works before police announced the development Thursday, he said.
"And now all of a sudden, here we go again," he said of intense interest in the case, adding he hopes the coverage will lead to bringing his daughter home.