A day after his father's arrest and placement of his two young sons in foster care and nearly two years after his wife Susan disappeared Josh Powell claimed he had not experienced any depression, anxiety or sadness in the previous 12 months.
On the standard form used by Washington's child welfare system to assess mental health and well-being, Powell also checked "no" to questions asking if he'd felt anxious, scared or panicked recently, disclaiming any stress despite the tumultuous events unfolding in his life. But other documents among 1,699 pages released by Washington authorities Friday show that long before the state took protective custody of Powell's children, his oldest son was clearly struggling with the disappearance of his mother and scrutiny that surrounded the family.
And Washington authorities were sharing those observations with a West Valley City detective assigned to the missing Utah woman's case, who pressed caseworkers to intervene on the children's behalf during a visit last June.
"He is concerned about Charles and Braden," a DSHS employee wrote in one document.
The Washington Department of Social and Health Services released the documents in response to records requests by media and a state lawmaker after Powell killed himself and his sons in February. Among them are background checks made on numerous people involved in the child custody case; court records; the boys' school and health records; tips the state received about the boys' behavior; copies of letters Powell sent his sons daily; newspaper stories and printouts from a website Powell set up about his missing wife.
The documents offer a complicated portrait of Powell. He is described as sometimes making inappropriate comments in the presence of his sons about police, his in-laws and others he considered as out to get him and becoming agitated when one son said his mother had been found in the desert; a psychologist who evaluated him said he appeared to be putting on a front. But Powell also is described as a loving, involved father whose supervised visits with his sons that could have been the script for a parenting manual.
Nearly every visit between November and February, which took place at Powell's rented home in Graham, Wash., began the same way: the two boys would bolt out of the caseworker's car and dash up the driveway shouting, "Daddy!" Powell showered his sons with attention, fed them nutritious meals including sushi lunches and a lavish Thanksgiving dinner and engaged them in learning activities and building projects while appropriately monitoring sibling spats and childish tantrums, according to detailed notes kept by caseworker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall. Powell wrote letters to his sons daily, telling them how much he missed them and the fun activities he'd planned for coming visits.
"I sure miss you," he wrote to his son Charlie on October 3. "Everything I do is for you. I love you and I'm working hard to see you more."
Powell moved into his father Steve Powell's Puyallup, Wash., home in January 2010, weeks after his wife's still unsolved disappearance from the couple's West Valley City home on Dec. 7, 2009. Powell claimed he took his sons on a midnight camping trip to Utah's west desert and had no idea what happened to his wife.
Charlie and Braden Powell were placed in state custody following the Sept. 22 arrest of Steve Powell on allegations of voyeurism and possession of child pornography. Chuck and Judy Cox, parents of the boys' missing mother Susan, received temporary custody of their grandsons.
The documents are the second set released by DSHS. Among the more than 800-plus pages the department released Feb. 17 were court documents, case notes, investigation reports, supervised visitation reports, payment invoices and the psychologist's evaluation of Powell. The new batch includes many duplicates of documents released previously.
Since their grandsons' deaths, the Coxes have criticized how Washington authorities handled their case, particularly the decision to allow Powell to visit with his sons in his home. DSHS officials have said there were no red flags that indicated Powell might be a danger to his children.
But the documents show that months after Powell relocated, people who interacted with his sons were noting odd behavior. On Aug. 20, 2010, a daycare worker at the YMCA in Puyallup, Wash., called Child Protective Services about comments made by Charlie, then 5. Charlie was asked why he didn't want to play with other children. During the exchange, Charlie responded that, "My little brother Braden tried to kill me, so he's in Utah now living with my grandparents" something that wasn't true. Charlie also had described to other children how to kill and bury a bear, something he said he learned from a television program.
The document says daycare workers considered the stories "suspicious" and a DSHS caseworker relayed both stories to West Valley City Police.
The documents show that West Valley City police were pushing Washington authorities to gain custody of the boys months before they were taken from Josh and Steve Powell's home. A DSHS note dated June 28, 2011, says Ellis Maxwell, the lead West Valley City detective in the Susan Powell case, went to Washington and met with caseworkers.
Maxwell wanted CPS to go with law enforcement to the Powell home but a DSHS representative said, "there are no current allegations" to allow the agency to get involved. The notes do not say, specifically, what concerned Maxwell.
That changed in August, when West Valley and Pierce County conducted a search of the Powell's Puyallup home and found pornographic material that resulted, a month later, in Steve Powell's arrest and the children's removal.
Days after his sons were placed in protective custody, Powell sent an email to a DSHS caseworker stating his children were not exposed to any pornographic material his father might have had in the home, which was "why we never thought there was a problem."
Powell also claimed that his mother Terri would provide a statement saying Steve Powell "never left pornographic materials laying around and never gave any hint at creating porn on any level during her 20-year marriage" a claim refuted by documents filed in the couple's 1993 divorce. In those documents Terri Powell said her husband kept a stash of pornographic material and shared it with their older sons.
The documents released Friday also include notes from the foster parents who initially cared for Charlie and Braden documenting alarming statements the boys made. The boys stayed in the foster home, licensed through the Youth For Christ ministry, for five days before being moved to the Coxes home.
In one, Braden brought up his mother and after the foster parent said she'd never met Susan, Charlie responded that, "Police officers are supposed to be good people, but sometimes that aren't good. They are just supposed to collect the information, not make people feel bad or say things that aren't true."
The foster parent said Charlie was agitated while talking about the police. In another note, one of the foster parents said Charlie had talked about a graveyard and said, "Of course they are going to find bones there." He then added, though the context isn't clear: "I'm talking about Susan because she's a girl and he's a boy."
Chuck Cox also sent West Valley City detectives emails describing disturbing comments the boys made, such as one by Charlie in which he said, "my daddy is a little bit bad."
As he had at the start of the child custody case, Powell pressed Washington authorities to move his sons from the home of the Coxes, whom he described as "the most dangerous people on the planet to my sons." In a Oct. 17, 2011, email, Josh Powell asked that Tim Atkins, a neighbor and pastor, and his family be a placement option for the boys rather than the Coxes. Powell said the family's four children were good playmates for his sons and that the Atkinses were preparing bedrooms for Charlie and Braden in the event they were given temporary custody of the boys.
Documents show that DSHS was reluctant to move the children from the Coxes' home since they expected the boys to be returned soon to their father's care.
Meanwhile, the Atkinses agreed to supervise one of the twice weekly, three-hour visits Powell had with his sons. And despite hateful comments the boys were observed to make about Mormons, Jews and Christians, Powell asked that his sons be allowed to participate in a "Good News Club" after-school Bible program run by Atkins at Carson Elementary.
"We have done a lot of activities together as families including dinners, birthday parties, walking to and from school, and attending church. They are close family friends since the time we moved here and the boys love them," Powell wrote to the caseworker overseeing his case.
A visitation report details a lavish Thanksgiving dinner Powell prepared for his sons, during which Braden asked his father about his favorite colors. His father replied, "all the colors are my favorite ... just like Mommy."
Charlie then argued that his grandmother told him his mother's favorite color was purple, according to the report.
Powell replied that his wife "loved all colors" and that he knew her best, so it didn't matter what others said.
By mid-November, Washington authorities had determined that allegations Powell neglected or maltreated his sons were unwarranted, according to the documents. The department was on track to return the boys to Powell's custody by January 19 at the latest.
That information also was shared with West Valley City Police, who then informed the department investigators had uncovered images on a computer taken from Powell's Utah home in 2009 that might have bearing on the child custody case. John Long, an assistant Washington attorney general, sent an email to DSHS staff and Jeffrey Bassett, Powell's attorney, saying they planned to slow the case down until those images could be reviewed.
The computer-generated images, described as depicting incestual pornography, were finally shared with Washington authorities on Jan. 17, just two days before a scheduled hearing which was canceled due to a snowstorm. After viewing them, the psychologist who evaluated Powell recommended no change in the children's custody and that Powell undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation. During a Feb. 1 status hearing, a Washington judge agreed. Also, Atkins, for unknown reasons, on Feb. 2 asked to withdraw as a visit supervisor for Powell.
Four days later, a caseworker brought Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, to their father's rented home for a supervised visit. Powell let the boys in but locked out the caseworker. He hit both boys in the head with a hatchet and then set fire to the home, killing himself and his sons.
Review of case
The Washington Department of Social and Health Services has appointed an 11-member panel to review the deaths of Charlie and Braden Powell while in state custody.
The Child Fatality Review team includes a law officer, domestic violence experts, a public defender, prosecutor, judge, two lawmakers and several department representatives. None were involved in the child custody case. The team will evaluate how the department handled the case and what might have been done to avoid the tragic outcome.
Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, died Feb. 5 during what was to have been a supervised visit with Josh Powell, their father and husband of missing Utah mom Susan Powell.
The team is set to meet April 26-27 to conduct its review. The department plans to make the team's finding available to the public once the report is completed.