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Josh Powell's pastor saw no hint that murder-suicide was brewing

Published February 8, 2012 4:35 pm

Investigation • Police receiving new tips on missing WVC mom.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Puyallup, Wash. •Â  As police continued investigating how Josh Powell killed himself and his two sons, a pastor who was supervising weekly visits at his home between the father and the boys said Wednesday he had no forewarning of the fiery murder-suicide that claimed the trio Sunday.

"I spoke with Josh on the phone Thursday night last week, and ... there was no indication of a problem or a change in his outlook," Pastor Timothy Atkins said in a written statement. "Josh spoke with me during that phone conversation about seeing him Sunday evening following the Sunday afternoon visit with his sons."

Shortly after noon on Sunday, Josh Powell started a gasoline-fueled fire at his Graham area home that killed him and his two sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5. Josh Powell and the boys died of carbon-monoxide poisoning, but the boys also suffered chop wounds from a hatchet, authorities said.

Atkins' relationship with Josh Powell included being a neighbor, a pastor and a friend, he said

"My family has been deeply affected," he said. "My wife and I have four children, three of whom attended school with Charlie at Carson Elementary School."

In October 2011, Atkins — who presides over the Faith Bible Church of South Hill — helped Josh Powell move from Puyallup into the house in Graham. And a month later, Josh Powell asked the pastor to assist with court-ordered child visitation sessions. 

"We were supervising weekly visits in our home for the Department of Social and Health Services," Atkins said. "Our children would play together during these visits.

Josh Powell, 36, was the only person of interest publicly named by police in the disappearance of his 28-year-old wife, Susan Cox Powell, from their West Valley City home on Dec. 9, 2009. 

Said Atkins:  "Although we had questions about the disappearance of Susan Powell, we made efforts to minister to [Josh Powell] through giving counsel in making needed changes in his life and by speaking about the truth of the Gospel with him, showing him how he might receive salvation through Jesus Christ. We often quoted in our discussions the truth of Romans 10:11-13: 'Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed ... Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.'

"We are continuing to be in prayer for the Cox family and the Powell family that they may receive mercy and find grace to help in this time of need," Atkins said. " We are asking for the Lord's strength in our lives and the lives of all of us who need His help because of these shocking events."

Meanwhile, relatives of Josh Powell blamed government officials, media and Internet media pundits for setting in motion the terrible tragedy that has now rocked two families. 

Family members have accused police and the media of harassing Josh Powell, and a cousin has asked the FBI to investigate claims he was a victim of cyberbullying.

A statement signed by Maurice and Patti Leach said they were "grievously saddened" by the loss experienced by both the Cox and Powell families and that there was no justification for the deaths of Josh Powell's two innocent sons.

Patti Leach is Josh Powell's aunt, and a sister to his father, Steve Powell. They attended a September custody hearing to support Josh Powell, which left them disillusioned with the legal system when the father lost custody to his children. 

They said government agencies, religious bias, "Internet kangaroo courts and sensationalized media had circumvented and completely compromised" due process rights in the case.

"America, this is not only a tragedy, Sunday was a dark day for all of our families," the Leaches said.

In the wake of the deaths, West Valley City police say they have received several new email tips about the disappearance of Susan Powell.

West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen, who spent Tuesday meeting with local law enforcement, said the information is "new stuff coming out." Officers are reviewing the tips to see if they yield any credible leads.

"When we get back from this, we're going to debrief what's happened up here, what we have," he said at the Pierce County Sheriff's Office. "It will probably take about a month and we'll reassess what we're going to do. But we're going to keep it active and open."

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office has been investigating the deaths and whether any of Josh Powell's family had prior knowledge of his plans. Search warrant returns made public Wednesday show sheriff's detectives confiscated the cellphone of Josh Powell's sister after she refused to give emails and voice mails that he left for her before killing his sons.

When two detectives arrived at Alina Powell's home on Sunday to notify her of Josh Powell's death, she showed them four emails sent by Josh Powell and told them she had a voice message from her brother.

"During the interview, Alina became upset and refused to allow Det. [Gary] Sanders to copy the emails and refused to provide the phone to Det. Sanders," the search warrant states. The detectives obtained a court order and seized the phone Monday, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Police also obtained photos of Josh Powell taken Saturday at a Bank of America in Puyallup, where he withdrew $7,000 in cash from his checking account. The teller who handled the transaction told officers he "did not ask Powell why he made the withdrawal," according to the search warrant affidavit.

Nielsen said Tuesday that while police have circumstantial evidence about what happened to Susan Powell, it never met the "threshold" needed to take the case to a prosecutor.

Nielsen — who has found himself defending the West Valley City department for their investigation into the missing woman's case — declined to discuss evidence.

But Steve Downing, who represents the Coxes, revealed that Josh Powell bought a $1 million life insurance policy on his wife a year before she disappeared. Downing said Josh Powell also was telling friends about how to dispose of a body without being caught.

The father of Susan Powell on Wednesday said he remained supportive of the West Valley City police.

"I think the police handled this well, and as well as they could," Chuck Cox said. "My only concern is they should have arrested Josh as soon as they could if they had evidence." 

Nielsen met with the Cox family Tuesday night. 

"The discussion was, yes, Susan's case remains open," Cox said. "They're getting more leads." 

"Josh was not a big lead," Cox added. "He was not going to tell them anything. They're still optimistic they're going to be able to find her." 

Attorney Downing on Tuesday told The Tribune how West Valley City police sought to provoke Josh Powell and his father, Steve Powell, in the hopes they would talk and provide clues to Susan Powell's fate. 

Among the stimuli was an event on Aug. 20 of last year where the Cox family and their supporters stood on a busy intersection two miles from Steve Powell's home and held banners and signs reminding drivers of Susan Powell's disappearance. 

Steve Powell responded that day by confronting Chuck Cox at the intersection and accusing him of harassing his family. 

The confrontation occurred as West Valley City police were conducting a search in Ely, Nev.

Downing said West Valley City launched the desert search only because someone reported Josh Powell was at a gem show and showed an interest in a bag of rocks from Ely. 

But Chuck Cox said Wednesday he "would support the police in anything they did. Anything to get Josh [Powell] to talk or his family to talk, I supported wholeheartedly."

Cox said West Valley City police may soon disclose more details of their suspicions concerning Josh Powell.

West Valley City police also are still considering whether Steve Powell was some sort of accomplice in Susan Powell's disappearance, Cox said. 

While Cox remained complimentary of police, he had some criticism for Washington Child Protective Services. He said he warned the agency his son-in-law might kill himself and his children if Josh Powell felt boxed in. 

"Child Protective Services have heard so many people cry wolf so many times, I'm sure it was falling on deaf ears," Cox said. 

"I don't fault them for that," Cox added, acknowledging the agency was following the law. "They did everything they possibly could." 

Still, Cox said, it was a mistake for Child Protective Services to allow Josh Powell to have visits at his home with the children, even with a social worker there. 

Josh Powell's court-ordered visits also were being supervised by a woman with a private contract agency. It was that woman, Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, who brought the boys — who were living with their maternal grandparents Chuck and Judy Cox — to see their father on Sunday.

When the boys entered the home, Josh Powell locked his door against Griffin-Hall and lit the 10 gallons of gasoline he had spread throughout the residence.

Josh Powell lost custody of his sons in September, when Steve Powell was arrested for voyeurism and possession of child pornography. Josh, who had been living at his father's house, later rented the home in nearby Graham that he burned to the ground Sunday. 

Griffin-Hall has chosen not to comment to media.

However, a voice mail statement was released by the woman's employer, Foster Care Resource Network.

"The management and staff of Foster Care Resource Network are devastated by the deaths of Charlie and Braden Powell," the recorded statement said. "All of us send our condolences to the boys' family, especially the boys' maternal grandparents. 

"Our professional case worker has been conducting court-ordered supervised visits with the children in their father's home since Nov. 2, 2011. Our case worker is horrified over what happened to these wonderful children with whom she has worked with for months and has come to love."

The statement went on to say that police and the Department of Social and Health Services are conducting investigations and that Foster Care Resource Network did not wish to interfere with those investigations by talking with the media at this time.

Tribune reporters Brooke Adams and Cimaron Neugebauer contributed to this story.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

http://www.scribd.com/doc/80925694/Powell-family-statement-on-Josh-Powell" style="margin: 12px auto 6px auto; font-family: Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 14px; line-height: normal; font-size-adjust: none; font-stretch: normal; -x-system-font: none; display: block; text-decoration: underline;">Powell family statement on Josh Powell

Funeral services

P Charles and Braden Powell •A funeral service for Josh Powell's two sons will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 11 a.m. at Life Center Church, 1717 S. Union Ave. Tacoma, Wash. 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, Wash., 253-863-2800.

Josh Powell • 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."