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The mother of Josh Powell has broken her silence, calling her son a "loving and very engaged father" as a custody dispute over his two young sons continues to play out in the Washington legal system.

In a declaration filed recently in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash., Terrica Powell called her grandsons Charlie, 6, and Braden, 4, "happy, well-adjusted and vibrant children ... even though they miss their mother."

The court document is the first time Terrica Powell, 56, has commented about her son in a public venue since the December 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan, from the couple's West Valley City home. Josh Powell, the only person of interest police have publicly named in his wife's case, is fighting to regain custody of his boys and clear his name following the arrest of his father, Steve Powell, on voyeurism and child pornography charges.

"Josh has long maintained a tradition of frequent activities with the kids, such as going to the zoo, or to the park to feed the ducks, or to the museum, or to Lowe's for the little building projects they offer for kids," Terrica Powell wrote. "In addition, I have been impressed with the extra level of care Josh takes in teaching his little boys about how things work, such as when he built a new deck for their home: He delightedly let the boys be involved in a way and at a level that was interesting and safe for them. Other examples include studying animals or learning about science together.

"I have been relieved and pleased to note how very well Charlie and Braden are doing, despite the trauma and sadness of missing their beloved mother. They seem to be continuing to thrive."

Judge Kathryn J. Nelson approved the Washington Child Protective Services temporary placement of Charlie and Braden with their maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, last week. Nelson ruled it was unsafe for the boys to live with their father because investigators are probing whether Josh Powell is connected to his wife's disappearance or was possibly involved in illicit pornography with his father.

Charlie and Braden Powell moved with their father in January 2010 to Puyallup, Wash., where they resided at Steve Powell's home.

Steve Powell was arrested Sept. 22, after police found thousands of images of girls and women, some unclothed, during a search of the home in August. They allege Steve Powell filmed his victims without their knowledge, in some instances using a telephoto lens to peep through a neighbor's windows.

The same night police arrested Steve Powell, Charlie and Braden were placed in foster care. The Coxes, who believe Josh Powell is responsible for their daughter's disappearance, filed a custody petition for the children. Nelson approved the placement of the boys with the Coxes and is allowing Josh Powell weekly three-hour visits with his sons.

In a declaration Josh Powell, 35, filed with the court, he asked for his sons to be returned to him.

"My sons love me and I love them. There is nothing unsafe in our household," he wrote.

"My father was recently removed from our home and charged with crimes. The recent chain of events within our family household was totally unexpected despite what the media has represented. There was no visible sign of threat to my sons. Nevertheless, I have taken and will continue to take every step possible to mitigate any future potential threat to the well-being of my sons."

Terrica Powell's comments in support of Josh Powell are a stark contrast to those made by her daughter, Jennifer Graves, with whom Terrica Powell resides in West Jordan.

Graves filed a declaration in support of the boys staying with the Coxes, writing that she had recently visited her nephews following their placement with their maternal grandparents. Graves and her husband, Kirk, have said they believe Josh Powell is connected to his wife's disappearance.

Jennifer Graves has also said she was not surprised by her father's arrest. She claimed that Steve Powell made sexual advances toward his daughter-in-law and said her father had a pornography addiction that he exposed his own children to while they were growing up in Washington.

The boys, Graves wrote, are happy in the custody of the Coxes.

"I believe that Josh is responsible for Susan's disappearance. Leaving the children in his primary care poses a serious and substantial risk of harm to these children," Graves wrote. "I am further deeply concerned about both of these boys because of a total personality change in my brother Josh. Prior to Susan's disappearance, my brother was animated, extremely talkative and socially outgoing."

She wrote that Josh Powell no longer behaves as he used to in his wife's absence, adding, "I believe that my brother has been exhibiting signs of serious mental health problems since Susan's disappearance." She added the Powell family's medical history includes members who have been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic.

Terrica Powell wrote that she stays in contact with Josh as well as two other children who live with him in Puyallup — John and Alina.

She said while she's only seen her grandsons once since they moved to Washington, she has heard them chattering in the background about "normal daily activities" when she calls on the phone. She complimented Alina Powell, 26, on the mother role she has taken on with her nephews.

Alina Powell and her brothers John Powell, 34, and Michael Powell, 29, have all filed declarations in support of their brother, court documents show.

"The boys have already had to live without their mother these past 21 months, not knowing where she is or why she's gone and only knowing that she loves them. The most destructive thing I can imagine would be to take the boys from their father," Alina Powell wrote.

Michael Powell wrote that he lived at the Powell home in Puyallup for seven months after he was discharged from the U.S. Army until he moved to Minneapolis in July 2010 to attend graduate school.

"Josh and I spoke to a counselor about how best to care for the boys' emotional needs; she gave recommendations which Josh has adhered to," Michael Powell wrote. "Josh has a stable job and a good income, and John and Alina both have incomes as well. Alina has been helping to care for the children and is still available to do that."

Michael Powell wrote that his sister, Graves, has made false claims about the family and said her comments about Steve Powell stem from a longing to "paint my father as an abuser in order to 'settle the score.'"

Two of Alina Powell's friends, 26-year-old Ana Ramos of Kent, Wash. and 31-year-old Kenneth Bentley of Vero Beach, Fla., filed declarations in support of the Powell family. They testified about visiting the home and called the Powells an "all-American family."

Powell neighbor Timothy Atkins, 37, who is a pastor, also wrote to the court stating Josh Powell appears to be a competent father.

"Josh and his boys attended several times the worship services at the church my family currently ministers and serves every Sunday," Atkins wrote in his declaration.

Natanya Slaughter, 33, was also asked to filed a declaration on behalf of Josh Powell. She wrote that she met Alina and the boys at a local YMCA and said Charlie and Braden seemed well-adjusted.

"As a parent, I do not have any problem with my children spending time with the Powells in social situations," Slaughter wrote.

The Coxes, meanwhile, have filed their own declarations in court, claiming that Charlie and Braden are well-cared for in their custody.

Judy Cox wrote that when her grandsons first came to the Cox home, one of them commented that Josh Powell had told them Chuck Cox was "mean."

He answered back, "Do you think I am mean?" And the children responded "no," Judy Cox wrote in court documents.

"We decided not to question the minor children about these comments and just let the evening proceed without any drama," Judy Cox wrote. "Both children last night and this morning told us how much they loved us and gave us hugs and kisses."

She wrote that when the boys came to live with them on Sept. 27, they played Candy Land, picked strawberries and tomatoes from the Cox garden and visited with family members.

Filings in the custody case will likely continue through the next hearing in the case, which is scheduled for November.

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