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Flames pour from the home of Josh Powell after the Sunday afternoon explosion. Josh Starkey photo via KOMO News
Josh Powell's last act 'just evil,' West Valley police chief says
Tragedy » Josh Powell, the primary person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell, kills himself and his two sons Sunday, setting fire to his home just moments after pushing out a social worker during a supervised visit.
First Published Feb 05 2012 02:42 pm • Last Updated Apr 12 2012 08:00 am

Graham, Wash. • A beleaguered Josh Powell — under suspicion for the 2009 disappearance of his wife and fighting an uphill battle for custody of his two young boys — killed himself and his sons on Sunday by setting fire to his Washington state home, officials said.

Calling it a "double murder/suicide," authorities said late Sunday the blaze that leveled Powell’s Graham home was "very well-planned" and was fueled by accelerants spread throughout the residence.

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Home video of the fire

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Aerial images of the home

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Family reaction

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"Everything that happened was intentional," said Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire broke out about 12:30 p.m., Washington time, just moments after a social worker had arrived with the boys — 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden — for a supervised visit with their father.

When the boys entered the home, Josh Powell locked out the social worker, who pounded on the door and a window, then tried to call Josh Powell’s cell phone, Troyer said.

The house "lit up" about three minutes after the social worker was locked out, and it burned with a ferocity that prompted witnesses to believe the home had exploded, Troyer said. The social worker — who was not physically injured — called 911, then went to a neighbor’s home, Troyer said.

The three bodies were later found in the same room in the middle of the home, Troyer said.

Josh Powell’s death could mean that the disappearance of his 28-year-old wife Susan Powell from their West Valley City home in December 2009 will never be solved.

West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, in an interview with KUTV 2, struggled to find words for the horror of what happened.


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"This was just evil, this was a terrible thing," he said. "He wiped out the whole family. So selfish. Our guys are struggling through this. I don’t know, it hasn’t hit us yet."

Nielsen said he and other members of the department will be going to Washington for a strategy session with sheriff’s officers there.

"Then we need to say where we’re going to go," Nielsen told KUTV. "We need to get some closure for us on our criminal case, so in the next couple weeks we’ll probably sit down and have a decision made and go meet with the judge and prosecutors on where we’re at."

An email Josh Powell sent to his attorney — and to a number of other people — helped police confirm that he deliberately set the fatal fire.

Jeffrey Bassett, who represented Josh Powell in the custody case, said he received a three-word email from his client just minutes before Powell and his two boys died in the fire.

"I’m sorry, goodbye," the email said.

The message arrived about 10 minutes before the fire broke out, but Bassett didn’t see it until two hours later, when others told him Josh Powell and the boys had been killed.

Bassett said he knew Josh Powell was upset after a judge last week ordered that his sons remain in the custody of their grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox. The judge also ordered Josh Powell to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation and a polygraph test in connection with explicit images found at his West Valley City home.

Josh Powell also may have been feeling pressure in his role as the only person of interest publicly named by police in the disappearance of his wife from their Utah residence in December 2009.

But in documents filed by Josh Powell just five days ago in the Pierce County custody case, he defended himself as a "stable and loving parent," despite the hardships he was facing since his wife’s disappearance.

"I miss my wife, and so do many other people," he wrote to the court. "It has created a very difficult circumstance for our entire family. I have recently heard rumblings that some people are dipping deep down to the bottom of the barrel in a desperate effort to find and manufacture fault with me due to their attitudes.

"A lesser person would fall under the intense scrutiny that I am facing, but apparently my inherent resilience as a person makes it increasingly difficult for them to pursue their agendas. I am standing tall for my sons, but it deeply hurts to face such ridicule and abuse."

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