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Body found in west desert not missing mom

Published January 7, 2010 9:28 pm

Crime » Victim in Elko County is an unidentified male.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For a brief period Thursday afternoon, it was feared the fate of Susan Powell was waiting to be revealed in a remote desert valley near West Wendover.

Speculation ran rampant in the media that a body -- described as a person about 5-feet, 4-inches tall -- found wrapped in plastic and duct tape, might be the 28-year-old West Valley City woman, who has been missing for a month.

Elko County Undersheriff Doug Gailey later said the body was that of a Latino male. Gailey said the dead man's age and identity were not known, and he did not have details on who reported the body. Gailey said the body will probably be taken to Washoe County for an autopsy.

The grisly discovery in the Pilot Valley area northwest of West Wendover, Nev., around noon spurred speculation, as Susan Powell's husband, Joshua Powell, reportedly went camping in western Utah with his two young boys the day she disappeared.

Joshua Powell has said he and his boys left for Simpson Springs, in the west desert, around 12:30 a.m., while Susan remained at home. He is the only person of interest named by police in the case.

The Pilot Valley is between West Wendover and Montello, about 150 miles from the area where Joshua Powell claims he went camping.

West Valley City police were informed of the body's discovery, Capt. Tom McLachlan said Thursday. Family of Susan Powell was told to wait for more information from police, said Kirk Graves, who is married to Joshua Powell's sister. Reached on his phone shortly after news of the body broke, he said he was worried the body could turn out to be that of Susan Powell.

Graves couldn't be reached for additional comment later on Thursday evening.

Shelby Gifford, a family spokesperson for Susan Powell's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, issued a statement on the "Friends and Family of Susan Powell" Facebook page addressing the topic of the body found in Nevada.

"Along with everyone else, the Cox family heard news this afternoon that a body was located in Elko County, Nevada. Investigators from West Valley City Police Department contacted members of the Cox family to inform them of the discovery of the body," Gifford wrote, adding that it was quickly determined the body wasn't Susan Powell.

"While we are relieved to learn that a body found this afternoon in Elko County, Nev. is not Susan, the past month has made our hearts tender to the families of anyone missing a loved one. We appreciate everyone's efforts to find Susan and ask everyone to say a little prayer for the family of the man found today in Elko."

James Hofheins, an administrator of the Facebook page, temporarily closed down boards on the site until more details about the body were available when news of the discovery first broke. The boards on the page, which has more than 37,000 members, were later reopened.

Chuck Cox also posted a comment on the Facebook page about the media speculation about Susan's disappearance. Administrators of the page have asked people to keep content on the page about Susan and the hope that she will be found. The page's rules state "All comments deemed speculative, accusatory, negative or hurtful will be deleted and the poster may be banned."

Cox reiterated that preference in his Thursday evening post.

"The [West Valley City Police Department] is doing a great job. The press is as anxious as we are to have Susan found, unfortunately due to time lines, competition, and the needs of those investigating to build a legal case, the press is forced to speculate," Cox wrote, around 6 p.m.

"We want to keep this page focused on finding Susan. We appreciate all of your prayers and support. I will be sure that any verified news is posted here as soon as possible for all of you wonderful friends."

Meanwhile, plans for Joshua Powell's departure from West Valley City to his hometown of Puyallup, Wash., continued Thursday. Powell's brother, Michael Powell, has been spotted at the home and called West Valley City police Wednesday after Susan Powell's friend Tim Peterson arrived to retrieve a playground set he'd given to the family.

Peterson left the home after police officers asked him to.

Friends of Joshua Powell have said he plans to sell his home and was forced to leave Utah after losing his job in Utah. He plans to live with his father near Puyallup.

Larry Richman, a bishop in the Hunter 36th LDS Ward in West Valley City, which Joshua Powell attends, said several members of the ward will help Powell load a moving truck on Saturday.

"He is moving out on Saturday. There are some members of the ward who are going to help him move," Richman told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday.

--Tribune reporters Scott Sherman and Lindsay Whitehurst, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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