Bodies of 2 kids identified as Idaho community mourns

A boy checks out a memorial for Tylee Ryan, 17, and Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, at Porter Park in Rexburg, Idaho on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

Boise, Idaho • The bodies found this week at a rural property in Idaho are those of two children missing since last year, authorities confirmed Saturday.

The Rexburg Police Department issued the press release confirming that remains found on Tuesday have been positively identified by the medical examiner’s office as belonging to Joshua “JJ” Vallow, who was 7 when he vanished in September, and his 17-year-old sister Tylee Ryan.

“It is not the outcome we had hoped; to be able to find the children safe,” the Rexburg police statement said.

Police discovered the two sets of human remains after issuing a warrant at the home of Chad Daybell, who married the children’s mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, a few weeks after the kids were last seen. Relatives confirmed to the media the next day that it was the children.

For police, the grisly discovery this week marked a significant break in a monthslong investigation into what happened to the two children.

For relatives, their heartbreak was magnified.

For cluster of small Idaho towns, it was the denouement of one mystery and the start of another: Where are JJ and Tylee? Right here, and yet irretrievably gone. Why are they gone? That may never be fully answered.

“I never thought it would come to this — I didn't think they were dead,” said Timanee Olsen, a specialty cookie baker who has closely followed the case and after hearing about the bodies, planned a vigil to mourn the kids who disappeared from Rexburg. “It’s just sparked a lot of sadness in our town."

The children's mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, has been in jail since February on felony child abandonment and other charges. Her new husband, Chad Daybell, was charged with concealing or destroying the bodies after police searched his rural property Tuesday. The remains have yet to be formally identified, but family members told news outlets that they belong to JJ and Tylee.

“We are filled with unfathomable sadness that these two bright stars were stolen from us, and only hope that they died without pain or suffering,” the families wrote in the statement.

Kay and Larry Woodcock, JJ's grandparents, worked for months to keep the search for kids in the limelight. With this week's discovery, they have withdrawn to grieve.

“The family is not doing any interviews right now,” said Felicia Dewall, who is acting as their spokeswoman. “They're asking everybody to kind of respect that.”

The complex case transfixed the public with its ties to the mysterious deaths of the Daybells' former spouses and the couple's doomsday beliefs.

It began with Lori Daybell’s brother shooting and killing her estranged husband, Charles Vallow, in suburban Phoenix last summer in what he said was self-defense. Vallow was seeking a divorce, saying Lori believed she had become a god-like figure who was responsible for ushering in the biblical end times. Her brother, Alex Cox, died in December of an apparent blood clot in his lung.

Shortly after Vallow’s death, Lori and the children moved to Idaho, where Chad Daybell lived. He ran a small publishing company, putting out many fiction books he wrote about apocalyptic scenarios loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also recorded podcasts about preparing for biblical end times, and friends said he claimed to be able to receive visions from “beyond the veil.”

He was married to Tammy Daybell, who died last October of what her obituary said were natural causes. Authorities grew suspicious when Chad Daybell married Lori just two weeks later, and they had Tammy Daybell’s body exhumed in December. The results of that autopsy have not been released.

Police began searching for Tylee and JJ in November after relatives raised concerns. Police say the Daybells lied to investigators about the children’s whereabouts before quietly leaving Idaho. They were found in Hawaii months later.

Investigators haven't released any new details since the remains were found. The bodies were sent to Boise for autopsies, and it's not clear when those results will be released.

“It is the most horrendous outcome to the craziest nine-month mystery that I've ever heard of,” said Olsen, who organized the vigil with a friend. "Those kids deserved better, and we're going to do everything we can to get those kids justice.”

Olsen arranged to have the vigil in a parking lot in Idaho Falls, close to the town where the kids lived, hoping it would provide enough space for people to feel connected while remaining socially distant. People gathered Friday night, wrote notes to the children, burned candles and listened to “In the Arms of an Angel," according to The Idaho Post-Register.

“It’s taken our town and turned it upside down. It’s all you hear about all day long, and you don’t need to know them to feel affected by it — it’s in the air,” she said. “We’re just doing our best to stick together, especially in the hard times.”