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Josh Powell left voicemail before killing self, sons

Published February 8, 2012 7:36 am

Graham, Wash. • 911 transcript shows fear for Powell boys; Josh left a voice mail minutes before deadly fire.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Editor's Note: Readers should be aware this story contains a graphic depiction of an explicit image.

Graham, Wash. • As recordings of Josh Powell and the 911 calls he spurred emerged Tuesday, police were searching a storage shed as part of the continuing investigation to determine how Powell planned his suicide and the murders of his sons.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday evening released a 911 call made by social worker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, who accompanied Powell's sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, on a supervised visit to their father's Graham-area rental home before it burst into flames.

She told dispatchers it had been 10 minutes since the boys, who were a single step ahead of her, had entered the home and their father had locked her out. The social worker said she could hear one of the boys crying as she pounded on the door. The social worker wanted a deputy to come to the house. The fire had not started yet.

Deputies "have to respond to emergencies, life-threatening situations first," the dispatcher said.

"This could be life-threatening,"Griffin-Hall responded. "He was in court on Wednesday and he didn't get his kids back and this is really... I'm afraid for their lives."

The dispatcher again says a deputy will come and the call ended. In the next call, Griffin-Hall frantically tells the dispatcher the house exploded.

Josh Powell's sister, Alina Powell, also called 911, apparently before the fire, to say she was receiving emails earlier that morning that were "weird" but she didn't think much of it until they detailed what to do with her brother's property and utilities.

Sobbing hysterically, Alina Powell didn't know her brother's address.

"The only way I can do it is to drive over there, but I'm terrified to drive over there. I'm not afraid of him, he'd never hurt me, I'm afraid [of what I'll find].

"I know it's been hard on him," Alina Powell also said. "The abuse has been extremely difficult."

Powell's family law attorney, Jeff Bassett, also called 911 to report his client had sent an email saying sorry and goodbye.

Minutes before Sunday's fire, Powell left a voice mail for family members.

"This is Josh. I'm calling to say goodbye. I am not able to live without my sons and I'm not able to go on anymore. I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Goodbye."

The voice mail, obtained by ABC News, aired Tuesday on Good Morning America. Alina Powell also released a statement to the network, apparently referring to the widespread suspicion her brother faced surrounding the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell, from their West Valley City home.

"Josh and his boys spent more than two years being crushed alive by hate, harassment and abuse," her statement said. "None of us could have anticipated the devastating tragedy that took place Sunday, but what this unimaginable loss shows is that hate will never end well. Hate kills."

Alina Powell and her siblings did not respond to messages left by The Salt Lake Tribune seeking comment Tuesday.

Police early on identified Powell as a person of interest in his wife's disappearance and criticized him for what they called a failure to cooperate with interview attempts. Powell maintained his innocence, and made no mention of his wife in the emails he sent to family members before the fire.

Powell had no criminal record, but records from his parents' bitter 1992 divorce highlight a troubled childhood and violent tendencies.

The documents, filed as part of a divorce in which Terrica and Steve Powell were vying for custody of their five children, allege as an adolescent Powell killed pet hamsters, engaged in vicious fights with a brother and repeatedly threatened his mother.

In one filing, one set of relatives said they'd received a call from Steve and Terrica Powell, who were concerned that Josh Powell was "acting weird and thought he might hurt one of them or himself."

A few days later Josh Powell, who was then about 13, attempted suicide by hanging. He was left with a rope burn around his neck, according to a document.

Another relative, who was in the home around this time, said Terrica Powell feared her son might "stab her as he was threatening her and was very emotionally unstable at the time."

That relative expected the older Powell boys would be "getting into trouble with the law sooner or later as they have a very distorted image of their own unquestionable right to do anything they darn well please … combined with a very deep contempt toward women in general and any authority at all."

Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said officers from both Washington and Utah are hoping to find out more information from a Tuesday afternoon search of a storage shed Josh Powell had rented. Troyer refused to name the storage facility.

Police have identified where Powell purchased the gasoline used to ignite Sunday's inferno and were seeking any video of him at the gas station, Troyer said. The purchase was one of several things Powell did during the 24 hours preceding the murders and suicide. Deputies had pieced together much of that last day, but were still trying to fill some holes.

Tom Poste, fire marshal for Pierce County, Wash., said Tuesday he believes Powell spread gasoline throughout the house. One empty, destroyed gas can was found inside the front door. The second 5-gallon gas can was found intact. It was protected by Josh's body when he fell on it, Poste said.

"It had some liquid left in it but it was very close to [empty]," he said.

Poste believes the gasoline was already spread when the boys arrived.

"The time line was way too fast for him to spend any time dousing gasoline," Poste said.

There is a fire station one-quarter mile from the house, but the house was too far ablaze for firefighters to do any good when they arrived.

An autopsy determined all three died from carbon monoxide poisoning but Charlie and Braden also suffered chop wounds to their necks. Troyer said a hatchet used in Powell's attack on his sons was found in the same room near their bodies.

Powell's sons were removed from his custody and placed temporarily with their maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, in September following the arrest of Powell's father, Steve. Steve Powell is in jail awaiting trial on charges of voyeurism and possession of child pornography.

Josh Powell suffered a setback in a child custody hearing last week when an assistant Washington Attorney General referenced an obscene image found during a search of Powell's computer. A judge scheduled the next hearing for July and ordered Powell to undergo a psychosexual exam.

West Valley City police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen arrived in Washington on Monday and vowed to continue the search for Susan Powell. On Tuesday, Nielsen said his officers have not attempted to meet with Steve Powell during their trip to Washington because he has been uncooperative in the past.

"Steven Powell will be somebody we'll eventually want to talk to," Nielsen said. "Right now he's not cooperating, doesn't want to talk to us."

— Reporter Bob Mims contributed to this story

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Funeral services

A funeral service will be held on Saturday February 11, 11 a.m. at Life Center Church, 1717 S. Union Ave. Tacoma, WA. A private family interment will follow at Woodbine Cemetery, Puyallup, on Monday.

Memorial contributions may be made to any Wells Fargo Bank to the Charles and Braden Powell Memorial Fund. Arrangements by Curnow Funeral Home & Cremation Service, 1504 Main St. Sumner, WA. 98390. 253-863-2800.