It was only a matter of time until Jennifer and Kirk Graves believed they would call Charlie and Braden Powell their own.
Shortly after the 2009 disappearance of the boys’ mother, Susan Cox Powell, the West Jordan couple took steps to become the adoptive parents of their nephews, with the blessing of the boys’ maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox.
The Graveses met with a family-law attorney to discuss procedures. They bought a 15-passenger van to accommodate a larger family. And they spoke to their own five children about new bedroom arrangements, preparing the kids for the arrival of their “brothers.”
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They visited the boys in Washington, most recently at Thanksgiving with the Coxes, where they bonded with the children. The encounters were encouraging to the Graveses, who in recent months believed their nephews — sullen and hurting while living with their father, Josh Powell — had finally started to blossom again after losing their mother and living in an unstable environment at their grandfather’s house, Kirk Graves said.
As the Graveses begin the long drive Thursday to Puyallup, Wash., to bury the 5- and 7-year-old nephews they expected to raise into adulthood, they won’t only mourn the children’s unthinkable murders plotted by Josh Powell, they will grieve the melded family they were ready to embrace but will never see.
“All our plans revolved around the eventuality of getting those boys,” Jennifer Graves said during a Wednesday interview.
“We had talked with the Coxes. They would much rather be a grandparent than a parent,” Kirk Graves added.
The couple praised the Coxes parenting efforts since taking custody of the boys from Josh Powell in September. The Coxes planned to take care of Charlie and Braden through what the family presumed would be Josh Powell’s eventual arrest and conviction for the murder of his missing wife, the Graveses said.
The families agreed that once the boys were in a good place emotionally, the Graveses were in a better position to raise them full-time.
“They were really helping them along,” Jennifer Graves said of the Coxes. “I was so impressed with what they were doing with the boys.”
The Graveses continued to pour out grief over their lost nephews on Wednesday and compared Josh Powell’s behavior to that of his father, Steven Powell, who is in the Pierce County jail in Washington awaiting trial on voyeurism and child pornography charges.
Like his father, Josh Powell weathered a nasty divorce as a child, Kirk Graves said. Like his father, Josh Powell had problems with pornography and used his children as a tool to hurt other family members, he added.
“The mental history of both of them is not a history of mental illness, but of an inability to really function right within a relationship. They both didn’t do that well. Steve never killed his wife, but he did everything he could to make her life hell,” Kirk Graves said.
“ When it came down to the separation, Steve used the kids as a tool to hurt Terri [Josh’s mother] and everything else. Josh did the same thing, but it wasn’t with Susan, it was with anyone else. It is all about control. We keep saying that word, but it fits both of them very well. They just want control.”
The Graveses said Wednesday they are confident Josh Powell killed his wife, perhaps because she planned to leave him and take the children away. They said he repeated his behavior when it appeared the Coxes would take full custody of Charlie and Braden.
The Graveses also offered a response to a statement issued by Powell’s aunt and uncle, Patti and Maurice Leach, which suggested Powell was a victim of bullying and an unfair portrayal in the media and on Internet sites, which led him to his breaking point.
“They blame it on a broken system. They blame the government, the government agencies, the police, the media. There is no one to blame here. The only one who is responsible for this is Josh,” Jennifer Graves said. “I don’t care what kind of pressure you are under, you always have a choice. You don’t have to take someone else’s life.”
She said she won’t attend her brother’s funeral, if a service is held. Although she spent a lifetime knowing Josh Powell, she said she can’t mourn his loss or focus on happier times from her brother’s life.
“The last two years have opened my eyes a lot to what he has become,” Graves said. “After hearing the brutal manner that he killed his children, though, it’s really tough to feel any sorrow for him. It might come eventually.
“Right now, I am just disgusted that he would do this to his own children. To these two little boys that he professed to love.”
Charles and Braden Powell:
A funeral service for the boys will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Life Center Church, 1717 S. Union Ave. Tacoma, Wash.
A private family interment will follow at Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup on Monday.
Memorial contributions may be made to any Wells Fargo Bank branch to the Charles and Braden Powell Memorial Fund. Arrangements by Curnow Funeral Home & Cremation Service, 1504 Main St. Sumner, WA. 98390. 253-863-2800.
A statement from the Powell family says they have decided to delay memorial services for Josh Powell to allow the children to be memorialized and “give everyone a chance to deal with this devastating situation one step at a time.”