Mother charged in missing Idaho children case complicated by multiple deaths, religious beliefs

(Kauai police via AP) This booking photo provided by Kauai police shows Lori Vallow. Vallow, the mother of two Idaho children missing since September was arrested Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 in Hawaii. Vallow, also known as Lori Daybell, 46, was arrested on a warrant issued in Madison County, Idaho, and was being held on $5 million bail, Kauai police said. Seven-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan haven't been seen since late September, and police in Rexburg, Idaho, have said they “strongly believe that Joshua and Tylee's lives are in danger.”

Two children who lived in Idaho — Tylee Ryan, 17, and Joshua Vallow, 7 — have been missing for months.

The story of their disappearance is part of a larger tale that has drawn national and international headlines and involves at least three people dead, the two missing children and open police investigations in multiple states.

At the center of it all are the children’s mother, Lori Vallow, 46, and her new husband, Chad Daybell, 51 — a couple whose religious doomsday beliefs have isolated them from their families, their relatives said.

Vallow was arrested in Hawaii on Thursday, police on Kauai said, on a warrant issued by authorities in Idaho. She faces charges that include two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of dependent children, resisting or obstructing officers, contempt of court and criminal solicitation to commit a crime.

Vallow and Daybell married shortly after both of their former spouses died: Vallow’s husband was shot, and Daybell’s wife’s cause of death remains unknown. Authorities have said that Vallow did not cooperate to help find the missing children.

The newlyweds were then found together — without the children — in Hawaii.

What happened in Arizona, Idaho and Hawaii?

Last year, multiple people who were related or married to Vallow or Daybell were either killed or found dead.

In July, Vallow’s brother, Alexander Cox, called 911 to say that he had shot Charles Vallow, his sister’s estranged husband, at her home in Chandler, Arizona.

According to body camera footage from police officers who responded to his call, Cox said that he had been visiting his sister when her husband, who had been living in Texas, came to see the children.

Cox said that he had witnessed an altercation between his sister and her husband and that she had left the home. Then, Cox said, he got into an argument with her husband, who hit him on the head with a baseball bat.

Cox said that he retrieved his handgun from his room and shot his sister’s husband in self-defense. Charles Vallow died. No arrests were made, but the case remains under investigation, police in Chandler said.

On Oct. 19, Daybell’s wife, Tammy Daybell, 49, was found dead in her home in Salem, Idaho. Authorities said that she appeared to have died of natural causes, and she was buried in Springville, Utah, where she once lived.

Chad Daybell married Vallow the next month, and she moved to Idaho.

But Tammy Daybell’s body was exhumed Dec. 11 after authorities in Idaho began to question the circumstances of her death and whether it might have been connected to the disappearances of Tylee and Joshua.

The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho, which is investigating her death, is waiting for autopsy results.

On Dec. 12, Cox, Vallow’s brother, was found dead in his home in Gilbert, Arizona, according to police there. It remains unclear how he died.

“We are currently awaiting for the autopsy results to come back,” a department spokeswoman said in a statement. “We anticipate it’ll be another two months or so for us to receive those results.”

Vallow and Daybell eventually turned up in Hawaii but without the children, and in late January, the Kauai Police Department said it had served her with a court order to bring her children to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The deadline came and went, but neither Vallow nor her children appeared.

On Thursday, Kauai police said that they had arrested Vallow in Princeville and that she would attend a hearing on the island, “where she will have an opportunity to waive or fight her extradition to Idaho.” Daybell was not arrested.

In court Friday, a judge set bail for Vallow at $5 million and scheduled another hearing on her extradition on March 2.

Idaho court documents supporting the charges against Vallow said that when police searched her and her rented Ford Explorer in Kauai, they found Tylee’s bank card, which was still active and had been used since Tylee went missing months ago.

Rexburg police also discovered that Vallow sent an email in July asking the facility in Arizona that had trained her son’s service dog to find another family for the dog “due to a change in life circumstances,” court documents said. The training facility picked up the dog Aug. 30.

Daybell’s parents also told police that Daybell and Vallow had told them that Vallow was “an empty nester,” according to the documents.

Was a religious organization involved?

Relatives of Vallow and Daybell have suggested that the couple’s religious beliefs isolated them from their family members.

Daybell is the author of several books with religious themes, and both he and Vallow have been linked to an entity called Preparing a People.

A multimedia company, Color My Media, said in a statement that “Preparing a People” was essentially a lecture series. “It is not a ‘group’ and is not a ‘cult’ or something people join,” it said.

The website said it aims to help prepare people for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the statement made reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It added that Daybell and Vallow had both appeared on podcasts associated with the organization but were not considered leaders.

Vallow’s religious beliefs were also mentioned in court documents when her former husband had filed for a divorce from her about five months before he died.

The filings were obtained by Fox 10, a news outlet in Phoenix, which reported that the documents showed that he claimed that Vallow believed she was “receiving spiritual revelations and visions to help her gather and prepare those chosen to live in the New Jerusalem after the Great War as prophesied in the Book of Revelations.”

Steve Ellsworth, a lawyer who represented Vallow when he filed for divorce, confirmed the accuracy of the Fox 10 report. (The divorce was never finalized.)

Where are the children?

It remains unclear where Tylee and Joshua are and whether they are alive.

Rexburg police conducted a wellness check on Joshua on Nov. 26. They did not find him. They returned with a search warrant the next day and found that Vallow and Daybell had left Rexburg, Idaho.

“We have taken every step available to us, including executing multiple search warrants, interviewing multiple sources and running down every lead we have found,” Rexburg police said in a statement Dec. 30. “We strongly believe that Joshua and Tylee’s lives are in danger.”

“We want them back,” said Larry Woodcock, a grandparent of Joshua, at a news conference last month. He added that Vallow was a good mother to the children when they were younger.

“If somebody two years ago would have said this is what’s going to happen with Lori, I would never have believed it,” he said.

Authorities have said that Joshua’s relatives have not heard from him since September, that Daybell once falsely claimed that Tylee had died more than a year ago, and that Vallow once falsely claimed that Joshua was staying with a family friend in Arizona.

“We know that the children are not with Lori and Chad Daybell, and we also have information indicating that Lori knows either the location of the children or what has happened to them,” the police statement said.

In early February, The East Idaho News reported that Vallow abandoned a storage unit she had rented on Oct. 1 at Self Storage Plus in Rexburg.

The news outlet shared security footage from the storage company, which appeared to show Vallow and two men — possibly Cox and Daybell — visiting the unit multiple times in October and November to bring or remove items.

Self Storage Plus confirmed in a statement that it had rented a storage unit to Vallow. An owner of the business confirmed that authorities had searched the unit Nov. 27 and that it contained children’s items, including photographs, bicycles and clothing.

Sean Bartholick, a lawyer for Vallow — who may have changed her last name to Daybell — and Chad Daybell declined to comment on the case in early February but issued a statement on their behalf to The East Idaho News in December.

“Chad Daybell was a loving husband and has the support of his children in this matter,” it said. “Lori Daybell is a devoted mother and resents assertions to the contrary. We look forward to addressing the allegations once they have moved beyond speculation and rumor.”

Colby Ryan, Vallow’s older son from a previous marriage, expressed his frustration with the murky situation and urged his mother to “do the right thing” in a video posted in late January.

Ryan said he loved his siblings and wanted to see them.

“I just hope everything can work out really soon,” Ryan said. “I hope everything can turn back around and we can be together again. I want that. I miss our family.”