Powell boys' funeral will bring stories, tears, prayers
The sleepless nights haven't stopped since Charlie and Braden Powell died.
For those closest to the 5- and 7-year-old boys, murdered Sunday by their father, a string of horrific questions continually arise: How much did the boys suffer when their supposedly loving dad attacked them with a hatchet, then set a fatal fire to a house where they should have felt safe? Did the children scream for help? Could anyone have prevented Josh Powell's unspeakable acts?
When family and friends gather Saturday morning at the Life Center Church in Tacoma, Wash., there will be no escaping the grisly details of what brings them together to remember two lives cut short.
But there is hope that time spent looking back at the boys' playful personalities this weekend will overshadow their final moments.
"People might laugh a little now and then when we talk about the two of them," said the boys' uncle, Kirk Graves of West Jordan. "There may be some happy memories."
The public service in Tacoma will be followed by a private family burial at Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup, where the family hopes to reminisce quietly without the glare of the spotlight inevitable at the earlier memorial.
The boys' aunt, Denise Cox, on Friday said she was trying to pick out her favorite memories of her nephews to share at the services. The list to choose from is long, she said, but accompanying the boys as they trick-or-treated with her own children in October is near the top.
She's steeling herself to carry the tiny caskets of her nephews to their final resting places when she serves as a pallbearer.
"I'm hoping the funeral goes peaceful," she said, "and that a lot of support is given."
For Utahns, Saturday will also be a time to reflect and say goodbye.
Debbie Caldwell, who cared for Charlie and Braden at Daydreams and Fun Things Day Care Center in West Valley for a year and a half, said she still cares for other children who were the Powell boys' best friends, including her own grandson, Logan.
"Charlie's best friend was Logan," she said. "The two of them had just talked on the phone, and we were working on setting up a time that they could Skype. I had just talked with Chuck and Judy [Cox] about meeting them in Disneyland sometime this upcoming summer with Logan."
"Back two years ago the two of them [Charlie and Logan] where more like partners in crime. They managed to get into a lot of trouble together. They liked the blocks and they liked to dig in the dirt outside. They were great bug hunters together."
Caldwell searched for the Powell family when the boys failed to show up at day care in 2009 the first step that sparked the ongoing missing person case of their mother, Susan Powell. Caldwell said she'd always hoped to one day tell the boys how much their mother loved them, when they were old enough to understand all that has happened with her case.
"I have always felt that because I was the first to go looking for all the Powells that morning of Dec. 7, 2009, that if we didn't find Susan, the boys would find their way back to me to help them understand what happened. I wanted to always be able to tell them that I never quit looking for their mom," she said, noting she participated in multiple community-organized desert searches for the woman.
Caldwell recently visited the Powell boys in Washington, where she played in a field with the children near the home of their maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox.
She'd worried about the boys' health and safety in the care of their father, especially after Josh Powell moved in with his father. Caldwell said she knew Susan Powell disliked her father-in-law, Steve. Caldwell felt a sense of relief when a Washington court judge awarded temporary custody to the boys' maternal grandparents following the arrest of Steve Powell on voyeurism and child pornography charges.
While Caldwell is overwhelmed with her own grief, so are the children who attended day care with Charlie and Braden, she said. Already devastated when the boys moved to Washington, they are said to again lose their friends, Caldwell said.
"The children that spent so many hours each day with Charlie and Braden are having a difficult time dealing with the loss of their little friends for the second time," she said. "This time we are going to have to bring in someone to help an expert."
Caldwell wonders how the children will deal with the loss and move forward. Braden's closest friend is still in her care, as are three other children who attended the day care with the boys.
"We have missed our friends and Mrs. Susan and her bird," said Caldwell, referring to one of the Powells' pets. "They ask what has happened to the bird."
Caldwell said on her most recent trip to Washington, she brought teddy bears for Charlie and Braden.
"The kids named Charlie's bear Sky, because Charlie could build the blocks high to the sky," she said. "They named Braden's Bear Cobra after the car model with the same name."
Graves, along with his wife, Jennifer, had planned to eventually adopt Charlie and Braden with the blessing of the Coxes. When spending Thanksgiving with the boys, they were pleased to see the children blossoming into fun-loving people again. After their mother disappeared, the children acted out for a time and weren't themselves, the Graveses recalled.
"I remember two different Charlie and Bradens. The first would be the before Susan disappeared version. They were young ... and so adorably cute. They would hug on mommy, and they loved their daddy. They would come into the house and just start grabbing my kids and hauling them off to go play," Kirk Graves said.
At Thanksgiving, Graves said, it was apparent the boys "were starting to heal. They were starting to act like little boys again."
He remembers his nephew sitting at a kitchen table working on an art project with cousins on Thanksgiving and realized the 7-year-old's creativity.
"They were cutting out little shapes and gluing them together to make these cute little art projects," Kirk Graves said. "He brought the boat to me and said 'Uncle Kirk, what do you think of this?' "
"He was gifted, he was fun, and he was smart. He was still hurting, but getting better," Graves said of Charlie.
Braden Powell was known to grab his aunts and uncles and beg them to read to him for hours on end, the Graveses said. He never tired of the stories.
"And he wanted to be on your lap. All the time," the boys' aunt, Jennifer Graves, remembered with a smile.
"You could read him a book for two hours and you'd start getting a little tired of it, and you'd be like 'OK Braden, go do something else.' And five minutes later, he's got you again, sitting you down, reading him a book," Kirk Graves said as he laughed.
The good memories will help to start healing, Denise Cox said, but the family won't ever recover from losing Charlie, Braden and Susan, she said.
"We still don't know where to go from here. It's going to take a lot to get through this," she said.
About funeral services for Charles and Braden Powell
A funeral service for the boys will be held on Saturday at 12 noon MST at Life Center Church, 1717 S. Union Ave. Tacoma, Wash. To see the program, visit http://bit.ly/x264rx (pdf).
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.
Life Center is affiliated with the Assembly of God church. The Powell boys, and their maternal grandparents are Mormon. Brian Curnrow, the funeral home director overseeing the services, said the memorial will be non-denominatonal. The Life Center sanctuary holds 1,800 people.
"Based on the response we've gotten on the Internet, I expect it to be filled plus overflow," Curnow said.
Life Center's pastor, Dean Curry, will officiate. Curry said the church has previously held services or police officers killed in the line of duty and last year had services for one of the U.S. Navy Seals killed in a helicopter crash.
"But we've never had one of this scope and magnitude," Curry said Friday. "This family's story was a tragic event before" the fire Sunday.
Relatives for Josh Powell have said 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."
Grandfather remains in jail
Steve Powell may not be in attendance at his grandsons' funeral.
The 61-year-old is being held in the Pierce County Jail awaiting trial on counts of voyeurism and child pornography.
Criminal defendants are able to ask a judge to attend funerals of family members, but a judge must grant such requests. Steve Powell had not been granted a transport from the Pierce County Jail to attend the funeral as of Friday morning, said Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer.