WEST VALLEY CITY — "Hi, my friend Susan has been missing for one year today. Do you think we could hang a flier in your window?"
For four hours, Kiirsi Hellewell goes from business to business in West Valley City, trailed by three of her children, armed with tape and fliers and the sheer determination of someone who has been searching for a full year since Susan Cox Powell went missing from her West Valley home.
All but once, the response was something along the lines of:
"Give us four."
"We've seen you on TV."
"We hope you find her."
"We're sorry she's still missing."
So is Hellewell. Since the day last December when Powell was reported missing, Hellewell has carried the torch, organizing search efforts, ribbon-tying events and flier campaigns. When asked if Powell's disappearance is always at the back of her mind, the response is immediate.
"More like the front of my mind," she said. "It is always, always there."
She pauses, and then she continues.
"It's really not fair to my family, but I try to balance it all so they don't feel like their mom was lost, too."
There has been no sign of Susan Powell since she went missing at about midnight on Dec. 7, 2009, when her husband, Joshua Powell, said he saw her getting ready for bed. He said he then took the couple's two boys, then ages 2 and 4 , camping in the family's van in a remote part of Tooele County. It was initially believed the whole family was gone, but Joshua Powell and the boys returned the next day. West Valley police have identified him a person of interest in the case.
But there are no real answers. Back at the Hunter Library, three women who lived in Susan Cox Powell's neighborhood and attended church services alongside her, man tables covered in bracelets, ribbons and maps.
"It's frustrating not knowing," Barbara Anderson said. "The not-knowing is the worst part. We just want answers."
She and the two others speak affectionately of their friend, reiterating what everyone who knows the woman has said for a year — that she never would have left her children. They are the latest to squelch Joshua Powell's theory that she ran off with a boyfriend, abandoning him and the pair's two young boys.
"Anyone who knew her knows that would never happen," neighbor Connie Dabel said. "That's not in her character. That would never, ever happen."
Next to Dabel, knitting quietly, is JoVonna Owings, who was the last person to see Cox Powell — other than Joshua Powell — before she seemingly vanished into thin air. She went to the family's home for lunch after their LDS Church services. Josh Powell made pancakes. Owings sat with Powell, and the two talked while Owings untangled Cox Powell's yarn.
"She seemed just fine," Owings said.
Her story is interrupted by the entrance of a tall, energetic woman with blonde hair, her chest emblazoned with lavender ribbons in honor of Cox Powell.
"Linda!" they greet her, hugging her and welcoming her to the day's effort. A former law enforcement officer in California who has since moved to Utah and been placed on disability, Linda Osborne comes from Grantsville to participate in any and all events related to Powell's disappearance. She has become a regular, and though said she never met Cox Powell, she said she has come to know her as a "wonderful, terrific person" from her friends. She has since planned or taken part in 15 separate searches spanning from Nevada back to West Valley City and focusing on the western desert near Tooele.
"Recently, I was very depressed about it because the winter has come," she said. "I'm bothered about the status of the evidence at this time due to weather conditions and the amount of time. ... I just hope something breaks through."
And then there is Stephanie Cook, who never knew Susan Cox Powell, either, but felt a familiar pang when she heard the mother of two was missing. Her own mother disappeared 16 years ago when Cook was just 5 years old. She was at a friend's house when Bobbi Ann Campbell went to get her paycheck and run to the grocery store.
"I fell asleep in the window nook," she said. "I woke up, and she was gone. I don't remember how it was explained to me. I just knew it wasn't right."
She said her mother, who was raising Cook on her own, was her best friend and never would have left her. She decided to help when she realized Cox Powell had two sons who were close to the age she was when her mother went missing.
"I don't want her children to wait as long as I did without answers," Cook said. "I'm going to do anything I can to help them. I don't want anybody to go through what I went through growing up, not knowing."
Police reopened an investigation into Campbell's case last year.2 comments on this story
In the meantime, she and Hellewell continue to walk, fliers in hand, dividing up the land they've been assigned to cover. Hellewell is committed as ever.
"Whatever it takes," she said.
She reports later that she didn't stop at 3 p.m. as planned. A friend came to take her kids for a while, so she and Osborne could continue.
"We're just so desperate to find her, and every minute, it gets harder and heavier," she said.
And then: "Hi, my friend Susan has been missing for one year today. Do you think we could hang a flier in your window?"
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