A year ago, as they marked the second anniversary of their daughter Susan's disappearance, Chuck and Judy Cox thought they had already confronted their worst nightmare.
But that loss proved a prelude to horror.
Thursday night, the Coxes will stand before friends, family and strangers to share grief for Susan that is compounded by the senseless murders of grandsons Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, who were killed by their father, Josh Powell, last February in a premeditated fire that also claimed his own life.
The anniversary of the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell will be marked by a series of events: the dedication of the Christmas Box Angel statue near the boys' grave in Puyallup , Wash., book signings later this week, a remembrance at a concert on Dec. 18 in Utah.
"It's good energy, it's something positive, but at the same time, it seems kind of pointless," Chuck Cox said candidly late last month. "There's lots of depression. It feels like it's going on forever. We're ready for us to find Susan and find some kind of conclusion."
Anne Bremner, a Washington attorney who represents Susan's parents, said of Chuck: "He never, ever loses sight of the goal and that is to find her. It's just gut-wrenching at times for me to hear him."
But that ending may be elusive.
West Valley City police say the case is open and active, with leads continuing to surface in the disappearance of Susan. Police have kept a close hand, however, on whatever new information they have even with the Coxes.
"They assure us they are working actively on the case, but they aren't telling us any details," Chuck Cox said. "They kinda sound like empty promises."
Susan Cox Powell was last seen at her home Dec. 6, 2009, a Sunday, when a friend stopped by to help the young mom untangle some yarn and then stayed through a later afternoon pancake brunch.
A day care provider raised an alarm early the next morning when the boys were not dropped off as scheduled and she could not reach either parent. Josh Powell, accompanied by the boys, finally arrived back at the couple's West Valley City home in the early evening of Dec. 7, 2009. Josh Powell told police they had left around midnight to go camping in Utah's West Desert, while Susan stayed behind. He initially insisted he assumed she had gone to work.
But the story was full of holes from the moment Josh Powell offered it. Investigators found Susan's cell phone in her husband's minivan and Josh Powell could not explain why he called it after being informed his wife was missing. They identified her blood on a couch and nearby floor in the couple's home. They also retrieved a statement Susan prepared detailing the couple's ongoing marital problems and her concerns that Josh Powell might harm her if she attempted to proceed with a divorce and sought custody of their sons.
The most innocent and telling observation of all came from Susan's son Charlie, who was 4 at the time his mom disappeared. Charlie told a police investigator his mom had gone camping with them but did not come back with them and he did not know why.
The story shifted to Washington when, less than a month after his wife's disappearance, Josh Powell, with his sons, moved into his father Steven's home in Puyallup. The case simmered until August 2011 when police searched the Puyallup home looking for clues. A month later, they arrested Steven Powell and charged him with voyeurism after finding surreptitious, sexually explicit photos he had taken of neighborhood children.
Washington authorities removed the boys from the home and placed them with their grandparents. The Coxes were engaged in a custody battle with Josh Powell when he carried out the murder/suicide on Feb. 5, moments after the boys arrived for a supervised visit at rented home.
Did Josh Powell take an explanation for his wife's disappearance with him?
Chuck Cox hopes not. He hopes Steven Powell, who was convicted and will be released from prison in May, or other relatives may know more and will some day feel compelled to share it.
"We still hope for the police to find Susan, or [Josh's relatives] to tell us more about what they know or where she might be and what Josh has done," Chuck Cox said. "We are hoping that whatever it takes, something will happen so they feel compelled to come forward to tell us the truth or whatever they know."
In the meantime, Chuck and Judy Cox, as well as Susan's sisters and friends, draw strength and comfort from the outpouring of support they've received from across the country.
"We know that a lot of people care and haven't forgotten and are there for us," Chuck Cox said. "That is a positive feeling. It tells us there are good people out there and that gives us hope that some good is coming out of this."
But in the still moments of the day, the silence of deep night, there is a clamoring question that Chuck Cox acknowledges he has yet to quash: Where is my daughter?
Remembering Susan Cox Powell and her sons
A candlelight vigil will take place Thursday at 7 p.m. at Woodbine Cemetery, 2323 9th Street SW in Puyallup, Wash., where a Christmas Box Angel statue will be dedicated. The anniversary coincides with the annual healing ceremony for grieving parents held at more than 25 Christmas Box Angel statue memorials throughout the country, including five in Utah. Crime Stoppers of Tacoma, Wash., and donations to the Susan Cox Powell Foundation paid for the statue; the Coxes hope the site will serve as a memorial site for all children and victims of domestic violence.
Other events marking Susan Cox Powell's disappearance from her West Valley City home and Charlie and Braden's deaths:
• Dec. 7-8: The Coxes will join crime writer Ann Rule, who devoted a chapter to Susan's case in her new book, at book signings. On Dec. 7, they will be at the North Burien Fred Meyer store, 14300 1st Ave. South, Burien, Wash., from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. On Dec. 8, they will be at the Fred Meyer store at 17404 Meridian Avenue East in Puyallup, Wash., from 2 p.m .to 4 p.m.
• Dec. 11: Friends and Family of Susan Cox Powell will gather at the Hunter Library, 4740 W. 4100 South, West Valley City, Utah, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to make purple ribbons to commemorate Susan and gather donations for the Christmas Box House. Items requested include toys, clothes, blankets and art supplies.
• Dec. 14: A fund-raiser for Charlie's Dinosaur will take place at the South Hill Wal-Mart, 310 31St AveSE in Puyallup. The nonprofit foundation, inspired by a drawing made by Charlie Powell, uses funds to provide backpacks filled with new items to children in foster care.
• Dec. 18: The evening performance of Michael McLean's "The Forgotten Carols" will be dedicated to Susan Cox Powell. Susan and Jennifer Graves, her sister-in-law, were set to attend The Forgotten Carols in 2009, just three days after her disappearance. Her friends and family will be special guests at the performance, taking place at Cottonwood High School, 5715 S. 1300 East, Murray, Utah. A booth will be set up in the lobby where guests may make donations to the Susan Cox Powell Foundation. Tickets for The Forgotten Carols are available at http://www.ForgottenCarols.com or by calling 1.866.846.7302.
• Susan's Song "A Dream Away," written by Camilyn Morrison of Utah, is now available on iTunes. Proceeds from sales of the song will help fund a memorial in West Valley City dedicated to Susan and her sons and to stopping domestic violence.
• The Tears Foundation, http://www.thetearsfoundation.org/, helps families cover expenses after a child age 12 months or younger dies. It has created and is accepting donations for the Charlie and Braden Project, which will expand support for families for older children.