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Tragic end for family — Josh Powell's final act of control kills him, 2 sons

Powell is husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell

Published: Sunday, Feb. 5 2012 11:28 p.m. MST

West Valley Mayor Mike Winder along with Powell family friends and well wishers hold a candlelight vigil in Salt Lake County Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012. Josh Powell and his two sons were killed in an explosion in Washington.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

MyNorthwest.com interview with attorney Jeffrey Bassett

GRAHAM, Wash. — Josh Powell sent an email to his attorney Sunday with a simple message: "I'm sorry, goodbye." Minutes later he accepted his sons into his home, kept the social worker who delivered them there at bay, and ignited a fire that killed himself and his two boys.

The Graham, Wash., home was ripped apart by a fire, described first as an explosion, shortly after noon just after the social worker had called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas in the home. The house was destroyed, and so too the family embroiled in loss, deceit, investigation and finally, death.

Dead are Charlie and Braden Powell, ages 7 and 5. Their mother, Susan Powell, remains missing. And Josh Powell, at the center of the investigation into his wife's December 2009 disappearance, is now accused of killing his sons and taking his own life.

"I did not think he would have the nerve to kill his two little boys," said Kiirsi Hellewell, a good friend of Susan's from their time in the West Valley City neighborhood together.

"Josh has always been about control. To him, the boys were his possessions. To him it was all about getting control back," she said.

That control slowly eroded over the past two years, apparently reaching a crisis point last week in a Pierce County courtroom in Washington, when a judge ordered Powell's two young sons to remain in the custody of the Cox family – Susan's parents — and for Powell to undergo a psychosexual evaluation to determine his custodial fitness.

Powell was allowed two, three-hour supervised visits each week with his sons. The evaluation, which would have included a polygraph test, was ordered after a psychologist who had been evaluating Powell noted that West Valley Police had images discovered on one of Powell's computers.

Although the images were not described in court, the implication was clear: they were pornographic and possibly illegal.

Sunday about midday, a social worker arrived with the Powell children to 8119 St. Court East in Graham for the first visit since that court hearing. Only a month after the disappearance of his wife in 2009, Powell packed his things and had moved to Washington state and has made it his home ever since.

His behavior and the subsequent arrest of his father, whose home he had shared prior to the father's arrest on pornography charges, led to the separation of Josh Powell from his children.

"We really thought Josh loved his boys," said Kirk Graves, Josh Powell's brother-in-law. He said he and his wife Jennifer received a phone call Sunday afternoon alerting them to the deaths of their nephews and the estranged Josh Powell, shortly after the explosion and even as the house in Washington continued to burn.

Graves said no one in the family had spoken with Josh Powell since before last week's custody hearing. Jennifer, Josh Powell's sister, had no comment Sunday.

Sgt. Ed Troyer, Pierce County sheriff's spokesman, said Powell sent emails to authorities that seemed to confirm Powell planned the blast. Troyer did not elaborate on the contents of those emails.

Jeffrey Bassett, Powell's attorney in the custody case, said he received a three-word email from his client just minutes before the fire began: "I'm sorry, goodbye." The email arrived at 12:05 p.m., but the attorney said he didn't see it until two hours later, when others told him Josh and the boys had been killed. He told The Associated Press that his client was upset about the order for the evaluation.

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