WEST VALLEY CITY — Police on Thursday announced a possible lead in the investigation into missing West Valley mother Susan Cox Powell who disappeared more than a year ago.
"A team of West Valley Police Department detectives will arrive in Ely, Nev., and its surrounding area to conduct a search and investigate the information received," according to a statement from West Valley police.
The search will be conducted Friday. West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell said he was limited in the information he could release Thursday.
"We've received some credible information that definitely needs some follow up," Powell said. "We want the public to be aware of what's going on."
Police were expected to release more information about what area was being searched on Friday.
Susan Powell's husband Josh Powell told KING TV in Seattle that hearing West Valley Police had a credible lead was "the best news that I've heard in two years." He said he had not been contacted by police, but instead learned of the Ely investigation from members of the media.
"It's not odd for the police to not contact me," Josh Powell said. "They don't contact me, they don't make an attempt to contact me."
Locals at the Silver State Restaurant in Ely said they had heard about the Powell case, but were surprised to learn that police and media were coming to the town for a search. They said a lot of people hunt in the hills surrounding the town and often find things.
Chuck Cox, Susan's father, said Thursday he was happy to know that police continue to work on the case, but is uncertain what his daughter's connection to Ely might be.
"They've had leads before that have gone nowhere," Cox said. "We don't know anything about Ely."
He said he has been in contact with West Valley police "about every week or so, and they haven't mentioned anything." After a reporter informed him of the press conference Thursday, Cox said he talked to police who simply confirmed there was a lead.
"We don't know what evidence they have right now," he said. "We hope she's still alive, and if she's not alive, we hope they find her. If she's not alive, we hope they can do something about it when they find her."
Cox also said Josh Powell has obtained a temporary restraining order against him that was served just last week.
"I cannot approach him or the children," Cox told the Deseret News. "(Josh Powell) feels I'm threatening to him or the children so I have been restrained from harassing him or hurting him or killing him or seeing the grandchildren. I'm going: 'Josh, I've never threatened you. I've never stalked you.' I've never done anything he's saying I've done."
He thinks the court action may have stemmed from a run-in at a Puyallup, Wash., area Lowe's store, where Cox has twice seen Josh Powell and his two grandchildren. The first time, in April of this year, he was able to talk to the boys. The next time, it played out differently.
"I saw Josh, and I called his name," Cox recalled. "I said, 'Hey, would it be OK if (Cox's wife) and I gave the grandkids a hug?' and he said, 'No, absolutely not.' I said, 'Why not? We're in a public place with lots of people around?' He should feel comfortable."
Cox said a court hearing about the restraining order is scheduled for next week and he looks forward to telling his side of the story.
Susan Powell's best friend, Kiirsi Hellewell, said she learned about the developments in her friend's case from the media but is encouraged by the news.
"I was really surprised because in all the time that Susan has been missing, I've never known the police to put out a press release, so that makes me think this is more credible," Hellewell said.
Whatever the news may be, she says it will be better than knowing nothing at all.
"I always hoped Susan was alive but knew that if she was, she would be held against her will," Hellewell said. "At this point, that's not really possible. We just want to know. If we found out the worst has happened and she's killed, that's better than not knowing, which is really horrible and torturous."
As for the rumors that have been spread in the time Susan Powell has been gone — including the allegation from Josh Powell's family that she ran off with another Utah man — Hellewell isn't worried about them or whether they'll be cleared up by the police's news.
"Those allegations are totally false, so that has never really bothered me," she said. "I just hope the police can find out the answers and whoever has done this will face justice."
Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, spoke with KING TV about the possibility of Susan Powell running away with Steven Koecher, who also went missing from Utah in December 2009. He said Ely is coincidentally between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Nev., where Koecher is believed to have been before his disappearance.
Steven Powell said it's possible the two chose Ely as a location where they could effectively hide in plain sight.
"Who's going to look for you in Ely, Nevada?" Steven Powell said.
Hellewell said friends and family of Susan Cox Powell have planned an event on Saturday to remind the public of her disappearance and the $10,000 reward that has been offered in the case. Currently, that event will go ahead as planned in both Utah and Puyallup, where Susan Cox Powell is from.
Debbie Caldwell, who cared for the Powell children in the 19 months leading up to the woman's disappearance, said she is "excited" for the police announcement.
"I'm looking forward to hearing what they know and hopefully we can bring some resolution to what's happening," Caldwell said.
Susan Powell, a mother of two, has been missing since Dec. 7, 2009. The night before she was reported missing, Josh Powell said he took their two young children camping in single-digit temperatures in a remote part of Tooele County in the middle of the night. When he returned the next afternoon, he said his wife was gone.
Josh Powell's story and his refusal to cooperate with investigators has left a heavy cloud of suspicion surrounding him. He has since moved back to his home state of Washington, where he and his boys live in the city of Puyallup with his father.
Josh Powell rented a car two days after his wife went missing and put several hundred miles on it during a 24-hour period, police said in 2009.
His father said that he believed in his son's innocence from the beginning and after talking and questioning his son came to a resolute conclusion that Josh Powell had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance. Steven Powell called the lingering suspicion of his son's involvement "unfortunate" and hopes the new lead can bring some closure to the case.
"I think both Josh and I are thinking that there could be some vindication here but we don't know what (the police) have," Steven Powell said. "There are a lot of people who really don't believe that a person is innocent until he's proven guilty."47 comments on this story
Josh Powell said the last two years have been difficult for the family, but his sons are doing well. He said his sons are laughing and loving life.
"There's a lot of people that have been extremely, extremely supportive," Josh Powell said, but added, "it doesn't make up for what other people are trying to put us through."
White Pine County sheriff's officials in Ely on Thursday referred calls to West Valley police and said they had not been asked to assist in any search efforts Friday.
The disappearance of Susan Cox Powell
Afternoon Dec. 6 — Neighbor eats dinner with Josh Powell, Susan Cox Powell and the couple's two children.
12:30 a.m. Dec. 7 — Josh reports last seeing his wife as she goes to bed and he leaves with children for late-night camping trip.
Dec. 7 — Police respond to the couple's West Valley home after Susan fails to show up at work.
5 p.m. Dec. 7 — Josh returns home with the boys.
Dec. 8 — Josh calls Susan's father and reports Susan is still missing.
Dec. 10 — Family and friends of Susan — including Josh and their sons — attend candlelight vigil.
Dec. 11 — Snow hampers search efforts in the Simpson Springs area of Tooele County.
Dec. 14 — Police confirm two fans were blowing on wet spot on the living room floor when they entered the Powells' home Dec. 7.
Dec. 14 — Josh hires attorney, opts out of a police interview.
Dec. 16 — Police label Josh a "person of interest" in case; he provides DNA sample.
Jan. 9 — Josh moves to his native Puyallup, Wash.
Feb. 15 — Susan's family launches foundation in her name, alleges that Susan was in "adversarial relationship" with husband.
April 10 — Police conduct search closed to the public, find nothing.
Dec. 4 — Josh and father, Steven, propose a theory on their website — susanpowell.org — that Susan ran off with another missing Utahn, Steven Koecher.
July 14 — Steven Powell announces intention to publish Susan's teenage diary, which he says will show she was "sexually open."
Aug. 18 — Police announce possible lead in Ely, Nev., and plan a search.
Contributing: Benjamin Wood, Andrew Adams, Mike Anderson