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A Washington Crime Stoppers organization announced Wednesday it purchased burial plots on either side of Charlie and Braden Powell's grave, ensuring their father won't be buried next to the sons he murdered.
Josh Powell's family visited the city-owned Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup, Wash., on Tuesday and picked a plot about 25 feet from where the boys are buried, setting off a new barrage of criticism and threatened legal action. Attorneys for Chuck and Judy Cox, parents of the boys' missing mother, Susan, on Wednesday were preparing to file a temporary restraining order to prevent Powell's family from burying him in the cemetery.
"We're certainly going to try," said Steve Downing, one of the Coxes' attorneys. "This is an outrage, a total outrage that you would even think about burying the murderer next to the victim. We just find it so sick and twisted that the Powell family would be trying to do this knowing full well how my clients feel."
Enter Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor and spokesman Ed Troyer, who also is executive director of Crime Stoppers Tacoma/Pierce County. The two men each wrote $100 checks and began collecting other donations to buy the plots next to the single grave that holds Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5. They completed the purchase, using some funds from Crime Stoppers, Wednesday afternoon.
Troyer said it may not be possible to keep Josh Powell from being buried in the cemetery, but "we can keep him away from the boys."
"We're not in the grave-owning business so we're going to do whatever the Cox family wants to do with them," he said. He hopes to raise enough to install plaques at the site and make it a "nice place for people to go and not have to see Josh Powell's name."
Downing said his office was inundated with outraged calls from the public after news broke about the burial plans for Josh Powell. Puyallup City Manager Ralph Dannenberg said in statement that Josh Powell's relatives selected a plot but hadn't paid for it yet. Dannenberg said the sale will be put on hold because of the threatened legal action.
"The city will refrain from authorizing the proposed burial to allow legal proceedings to occur," Dannenberg said. "Once the Pierce County Superior Court issues its ruling, the city will abide by the court's decision."
On Feb. 5, Josh Powell locked his sons inside his rented house in Graham, Wash., after they arrived for a routine supervised visit. He hit the boys with a hatchet and set fire to the house. Police in Washington are investigating the killings, in part searching for evidence of what happened to Susan Powell, who was last seen in West Valley City, Utah, in December 2009.
The two families were embroiled in acrimonious finger-pointing in the years before the deaths. The Coxes maintained that Josh Powell was involved in his wife's disappearance, and the Powells claimed the Coxes were unfairly maligning Susan's husband. The two families sat in different areas of the Life Center Church during a memorial service for the boys on Saturday in Tacoma and later attended separate grave-side services.
"I don't want him in the same cemetery," Chuck Cox said. "I don't want him in the same state. I don't want him anywhere near the kids. I don't even know why they're burying him. He's a murderer."
Chuck Cox said he realizes the Powells are grieving, too, and hopes that they will "come to their senses" and "realize how inappropriate this is," eliminating the need for any legal action.
The executive director of the Violent Crime Victim Services Center in Tacoma said he'd never encountered such a situation in the 20 years he's overseen the center.
"There aren't any laws on that, but it is not respectful and apropos," said Lew Cox, no relation to Chuck Cox.
Three years ago, another father killed his five children a tragedy that also took place in Graham, Wash., not far from the home Josh Powell set on fire.
"I was there when the kids were put in the ground and their father was not in that cemetery," Lew Cox said. "He was buried elsewhere. There were no issues or disputes that came up."
Washington child protection workers had placed the children in the temporary care of the Coxes after their paternal grandfather Steve Powell's arrest in September. The boys and Josh Powell had been living in the Puyallup, Wash., home of Steve Powell since January 2009.
As West Valley City Police sift through new leads received after the murder-suicide, a hotel worker has come forward with information she apparently first shared with police two years ago. Robin Leanne Synder told The Associated Press she managed the continental breakfast service at the Comfort Inn in Sandy in December 2009. On Dec. 7, she arrived for work at 6:30 a.m. and Josh Powell and his boys were already seated in the dining area.
"Charlie looked right up at me and he says, 'Do you know what happened to my mom?' So I say, 'No, what happened to your mom?'" Synder said in the interview. She said Josh Powell didn't look at her as his son spoke. Synder said the boys and their father left while she was helping other guests.
Synder said she remembered the conversation several days later when Susan Powell's disappearance was publicized and called it into a tip line. Synder told The Associated Press she didn't hear anything from police initially. She then shared her encounter in a Facebook post this summer, which apparently was relayed to police. A detective interviewed her about three weeks ago, she said.
Downing told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that the Coxes were aware of the breakfast encounter tip "from the beginning."
"Why did it take so long to interview her?" Downing said. "It seems inconceivable to me."
Pierce County Sheriff's Detective Denny Wood on Wednesday said nothing uncovered in the murder investigation has so far shed light on what happened to Susan Powell. However, Wood disclosed a few more details of how Josh Powell prepared for his suicide and the murders.
A portion of the $6,500 Josh Powell withdrew from his bank account the day prior to the murder went to his attorney Jeffrey Bassett via an electronic payment, Wood said. He transferred the rest to a bank account belonging to his sister, Alina Powell, and instructed her to pay bills with it.
Wood said dental records have positively identified Josh and Charlie Powell's remains. There are no dental records for Braden, Wood said, but detectives were able to recognize his remains at the scene.
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