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Report: Powell boys suffered 'chop wounds'
Susan Cox Powell • Utah detectives continue to treat her missing person case as active, open.

By Brooke Adams, Melinda Rogers And Nate Carlisle The Salt Lake Tribune

Published February 7, 2012 11:48 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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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Graham, Wash. • Charlie and Braden Powell didn't want to leave their grandparents' house.

Immersed in play with a young cousin at the home of Chuck and Judy Cox, a home that had become their own in recent months, the boys cried when told it was time for a visit with their father, Josh Powell.

Many times before they had reminded the boys their dad loved them and really wanted to see them, so once again Chuck and Judy Cox gently persuaded the children.

"I had to talk them into going, which really hurts because look what happened," Judy Cox said Monday.

As the Coxes poured out their grief over the boys' deaths, law enforcement released new details about the plan Powell formed to murder his sons while also taking his own life in a gasoline-fueled fire.

A voice mail Josh Powell left for family members, which was obtained by ABC News and aired Tuesday on Good Morning America, gives insight to Powell's actions:

"This is Josh. I'm calling to say goodbye.

"I am not able to live without my sons and I'm not able to go on anymore.

"I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Goodbye."

Powell also sent emails to family members dictating what to do with his money, utilities and other aspects of his life, said Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer. He also emailed his attorney and a former neighbor who is a pastor.

The only explanation for the deaths Powell gave: "I'm sorry, I can't live without my boys," Troyer paraphrased. Powell made no mention of his missing wife, Susan Cox Powell.

Powell had even donated boxes of toys and books to charity over the weekend, Troyer said.

Investigators found two 5-gallon gas cans in the home, and gasoline had been spread throughout the house. One of the cans was found with the bodies, Troyer said, adding that investigators are unsure whether the accelerant was spread before or after the boys entered the home.

"Ten gallons would easily take care of that house," Troyer said. Police are still trying to confirm where the gas came from and when it was purchased.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner late Monday listed the cause of death of Josh Powell and his sons as carbon monoxide poisoning. The boys also suffered "chop wounds," which M.E. investigator Melissa Baker called a "significant condition" contributing to their deaths.

Charlie, 7, suffered chop wounds to the neck. Braden, 5, suffered chop wounds to the head and neck. Troyer said a hatchet believed to have been used on the boys was recovered from the scene, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.

"It was right there with them [the bodies]," Troyer told the newspaper.

Chuck Cox said he felt Josh Powell, 36, was desperate after years of living under suspicion for the 2009 disappearance of Cox's 28-year-old daughter. Also, Powell's sons were removed from his custody and placed temporarily with the Coxes in September following the arrest of Powell's father, Steve Powell, for voyeurism and possession of child pornography.

"In my mind he saw he wasn't going to win," Chuck Cox said. "The only thing he could do was get mad. He made sure he did what he could, which was another sign of how disturbed he was."

When the boys arrived at Powell's home with a caseworker for the scheduled Sunday visit at 12:30 p.m. PST, they ran inside their father's Graham-area rental home. Powell then locked out the caseworker, who pounded on the door and called 911, Troyer said.

The blaze began about three minutes after the boys went inside.

Chuck Cox, his voice breaking with emotion at times, called the murders "cowardly and senseless. ... It's senseless to slaughter two innocent children. ... Clearly he had no interest in his children if he was willing to kill them."

Chuck Cox said he believes Josh Powell "obviously gave up on the situation. So he was going to lose in his own way."

Troyer said the bodies of Powell and his children were later found in the same room in the middle of the home.

Emails sent from Powell were dispatched just minutes before the outbreak of the fire, Troyer said, meaning none of the recipients had enough notice to do anything about them.

When sheriff's deputies on Sunday informed Steve Powell of the fatal fire and asked if he knew what his son had been up to, Steve Powell refused to cooperate. Steve Powell, who is being held at the Pierce County Jail, was then placed on suicide watch.

The Coxes said they had this message for Steve Powell: "Anything he knows, he should talk to police now or tell us about it now. He doesn't need to protect Josh. There is no point in him keeping back anything he knows."

The Coxes on Monday morning walked a Salt Lake Tribune reporter through a new addition to their Puyallup home, which they had temporarily set up as the boys' bedroom. It was newly carpeted on Friday night, but the boys spent only two nights there.

Braden's bed was covered with a quilt from the movie "Cars" — his favorite character was Molly Shiftwell. Charlie's bed was decorated with a Spider-Man quilt, a stuffed dolphin atop his pillow.

Braden loved puzzles, the Coxes recalled. His personality was more like the playful side of his mother: giggly and mischievous. He also looked a lot like his mother, the family thought. Charlie was very interested in science, bugs — "He just loved watching them," Chuck Cox said — and art.

Some of Charlie's artwork — a paper snowman, surrounded by hand-cut paper snowflakes — was still stuck to the window in what used to be the boys' bedroom.

"I want to keep a few things, like a snowflake, to put up each year and think of Charlie," said Judy Cox.

The boys' playthings are too difficult to see, Chuck Cox said. They plan to give them away.

After a tentative start in September, the boys had really warmed up, the Coxes said.

"I couldn't sit down without them being on my lap," said Chuck Cox. "They were very affectionate and loving."

Both boys also had started opening up about their mother.

"When they first came here, they wouldn't even say her name," said Chuck Cox. "It was 'Susan' [not 'Mom'], and they wouldn't even look at her picture."

But Charlie was beginning to talk more freely about her.

"He would say he missed her and we would say we miss her, too," said Chuck Cox.

Chuck Cox said that in 2010, the summer after Susan went missing, Braden — who was just 3 years old at the time — was drawing pictures at day camp. He drew a picture of a minivan with three people in it. When asked who the people were, he said, "Dad, me, and Charlie," Cox said.

Asked where his mother was, he said "Mommy is in the trunk," and said something about how they stopped and Mommy and Daddy got out and Mommy didn't come back. Chuck Cox said Braden may have been repeating something his older brother had said.

"I think they did know something, and I do think eventually [police] would have been able to find out what they knew and it may have helped find my daughter," Chuck Cox said.

Susan Powell was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009. Her husband — who denied any involvement in her disappearance — told police he last saw his wife around midnight, when he put their sons in the family's minivan and took them on a late-night camping trip in freezing temperatures in Utah's west desert.

The boys' aunt, Denise Cox, described the hours following the fire, which occurred at 1:30 p.m. MST, as a "blur" at the home of her parents, the Coxes.

"We are all still in shock," she said in a message at about 2:30 a.m. "We still don't know where to go from here. It's going to take a lot to get through this."

She said she plans to set up a fish tank in the boys' honor, as they both "really wanted one." Denise Cox said she is struggling to explain to her own children what happened.

Kirk Graves, Josh Powell's brother-in-law and the husband of Jennifer Graves — both of whom had been estranged from Powell — view the fire as proof Powell killed his wife.

"In my personal opinion, this is Josh's admission that he did it," Graves said.

Nathan Leach, a Texas cousin of Josh Powell's who was among those to receive communication from Powell minutes before the fire, defended his cousin on Monday. Leach said a cyberbullying campaign against Powell pushed him over the edge.

Leach on Monday contacted the FBI with screenshots taken from the "Where is Susan Powell?" and "Friends and Family of Susan Powell" Facebook pages in recent months and asked the agency to investigate whether people were contacting Child Protective Services with bogus claims so Josh Powell's children would be taken away from him.

He cited a posting by one Facebook user who wrote, "Who wants to rattle their cages even more and call CPS [Child Protective Services] on Josh and Steve [Josh Powell's father] to look in on the boys?" The posting received three "likes" on Facebook and was followed by comments that included, "I know it's been done already a few times, but sure why not try again?"

Leach said: "Josh is guilty of the final act, but there are people who are responsible for bringing him there and they need to answer for it. I'm worried this is just going to be 'case closed.' And that thought be a very convenient conclusion to all of this. Nobody would pay for what they've done to bring it here."

Ayn S. Dietrich, a public affairs specialist with the FBI's Seattle office, said she couldn't comment on whether there is an active investigation into Leach's claims.

The Coxes said now they are facing decisions they never thought they'd have to make — among them planning a funeral.

"Even if we had the children, if Josh showed us where our daughter was and had said, 'Yes, I killed her,' the boys would have lost their mother and their dad," he said. "There is no happy ending here."

Tribune reporters Sheena McFarland and Erin Alberty contributed to this report.

brooke@sltrib.com

Funeral services

Funeral arrangements for Josh Powell are pending, according to a cousin, Nathan Leach.

As for Josh Powell's sons, Charlie and Braden, Leach said Powell family members have agreed to allow Susan Cox Powell's family to plan those services.

"There is not going to be any opposition or drama," Leach said of the Coxes planning the funeral for the boys. "I'm hoping everybody just kind of lays off the Coxes and the Powells while they mourn and take care of their respective loved ones."

No dates for services have been set. —

Officials react

On Monday morning, the Utah State House of Representatives held a moment of silence in honor of Braden and Charlie Powell.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff expressed his horror at the crime.

"I've witnessed a lot of evil in my 12 years as Attorney General, but Josh Powell murdering his two little boys is the most fiendish act yet," Shurtleff said in a statement. "Josh Powell's malevolence is a reminder that our legal/criminal system can sometimes be inadequate."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert expressed his condolences "to all those who loved Charlie and Braden Powell."

"To have two innocent children taken in such a heart-breaking and horrible manner is a tragedy of the greatest proportions," he said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are suffering as a result of this great loss."

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire echoed those sentiments.

"I am deeply saddened by reports that two young children, Charles and Braden Powell, lost their life today in a terrible tragedy," she wrote. "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."



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