ELY, Nevada — Law enforcement officials searched about a dozen abandoned mine shafts in the mountains outside of Ely, Nev., Friday for clues into the disappearance of missing West Valley mother Susan Cox Powell.
"It was a very long, exhausting day," said West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell. "And we had a very successful day."
No physical evidence was collected Friday. Instead, investigators came away with "documentation and photographs" of each mine shaft, Sgt. Powell said.
The search was expected to resume, and possibly wrap up, on Saturday.
Sgt. Powell plus four detectives from the West Valley Police Department, along with representatives from the White Pines County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Land Management out Ely, searched the rugged terrain about five miles outside of Ely until about 5 p.m. Friday.
Well over a dozen reporters and photographers initially accompanied the searchers. The first search took place just off of Highway 50 near a gravel pit below Squaw Peak. Searchers focused on mine shafts. White Pines County Sheriff Dan Watts estimated there are a couple hundred mine shafts in the area.
"We're going to check every one we can get to," Watts said.
Police released few details at a Friday morning news conference about why they were in Nevada, but the sergeant later explained that new information from a search warrant in the Susan Powell case prompted them to head to the Silver State.
"We were able to obtain information from a prior search warrant," Sgt. Mike Powell said. He would not specify when or where the warrant was served or whether the information was a result from crime lab tests. At one point, he said the warrant was served during "the initial part of the investigation" and said the information received was "fairly recent."
"The specifics I'm not able to discuss in any detail at all," Mike Powell said earlier at a news conference that prompted more questions than provided answers.
The sergeant attributed the scant information to a court-ordered "secrecy order" and invited members of the media to join him and four police detectives on several searches in areas outside of town. He said investigators chose to "utilize the media" in order to let people know the case is still an active investigation.
After Friday's search was over, Mike Powell noted that part for the reason for the delay in receiving some of the information from the search warrant that eventually led them to Ely, Nev., was Josh Powell.
"That information was delayed in time as a direct result of the lack of cooperation of Josh Powell," Sgt. Mike Powell, who has no relation, said. "We always welcome him to come forward and speak with us."
Sgt. Powell also noted that Friday's search, "has absolutely nothing to do with Steven Koecher."
Josh Powell's father-in-law had earlier presented a theory that Susan Cox Powell had run off with another missing Utah man, Koecher.
BLM spokesman Chris Hanefeld warned reporters about the many mine shafts, both documented and undocumented. He also warned of rattlesnakes and live wires in the area.
Four detectives carrying ropes, riding ATVs, wearing helmets with big lights and climbing gear searched six abandoned mine shafts in an area that appears to be a makeshift landfill, where people have illegally dumped all kinds of items.
The searches appeared to be cursory and lasted only a few minutes at each site. After finding each mine shaft, searchers marked GPS coordinates at each opening and shined lights inside. Most of the shafts have been between 50 and 100 feet deep. At least one mine shaft had a gate previously installed that had obviously been breached.
The initial searches were occurring east of an active copper mine, Robinson Mine, near Lane, Nev. Searchers later moved to a second area — that involved going over a steep incline with loose gravel toward Squaw Peak — to locate additional mine shafts. Searchers advised only ATVs should try to enter that area.
Watts said his office was contacted two days ago by West Valley police who informed him that detectives would be in the area to follow up on leads in the Powell case.
Mike Powell indicated detectives are looking for something specific, but would not specify.
"This is the first time we've been here to follow up on information that led us out here," the sergeant said, yet also said officers had earlier taken a "pre-emptive drive" to Ely. "This is definitely not a cold case."
He said detectives "felt strongly that we needed to follow" up on information that led them to the area.
Around town, many people said they had heard of the Susan Powell case, but they were all surprised to learn of a possible link to the case in Ely. The Ely Times wrote a small article on the front page of Friday's newspaper talking about West Valley police coming to Nevada.
The media descended on the small town after West Valley police issued a press release Thursday announcing they had new information in the case that has gone unsolved for more than a year.
Susan's father, Chuck Cox, told KING-TV in Seattle Friday that he was "confused" by the police press conference.
"If you don't have anything, then you don't have anything," he said. "That's what's confusing. Maybe they do have something but why is it being revealed in this way? It's just kind of an odd thing."
He said he was happy to see that police are still working on the case and are dedicated to finding his daughter, but was disappointed by the information that was revealed.
"I was hoping to hear something, so I could say, 'This is what's going on' or have something we could react to," he said. "What it was, was not helpful to anybody at the moment."
Judy Cox, the missing woman's mother, said she went through a variety of emotions awaiting the news and hopes to hear more soon.
"We need closure," she said. "We need to find out the truth and I just really appreciate the police for not letting it become a cold case."
The West Valley mother of two was last seen Dec. 6. Her husband, Josh Powell, reported seeing her around midnight when he said he took the couple's children — then ages 2 and 4 — camping in the remote west desert of Tooele County.
He said at the time that he and the boys slept in the family's van despite the subzero temperatures in the area. Police seized the vehicle for a search just after Susan was reported missing. During that time, Josh Powell rented a vehicle and returned it with the odometer showing several hundred more miles on it than when it was initially rented.
Josh Powell has been named a person of interest in the case, but there have never been any official suspects.
Josh Powell's sister, Jennifer Graves, was emotional Friday when she said she was "expecting more" from the police announcement.
"It will bring a flood of new leads, so that, I guess, I can be grateful for," she said.
Josh Powell and his father, Steve Powell, have since said they believe the woman ran away with another missing Utahn, Koecher, and believe the pair may have been hiding out in Nevada.
"Who's going to look for you in Ely, Nev.?" Steven Powell said Thursday after hearing of the police lead.
Police have repeatedly said Josh Powell has been uncooperative with their efforts and Josh said they, in turn, have provided him with little information about the case.
"We've been working hard to bring Susan home," Josh Powell told the Deseret News Thursday. "Anything that gets us closer to that is a good thing."
Koecher has been missing since Dec. 13, when he was last spotted on a surveillance video in a neighborhood outside Las Vegas. His cousin, KC Naegle, said Friday that while the family appreciates the publicity the rumored connection to Susan Cox Powell brings, they don't buy into the theory.
"It's been weird," she's said. "Especially since it's really outlandish that they're connecting them. Yeah, it's kind of a coincidence that they disappeared at the same time, but they're saying things like, 'They both lived in downtown Salt Lake.' Right, but so did how many other people?"28 comments on this story
She said running off with a married woman with children is "so far outside" her cousin's character and pointed out that he and Susan Powell were at totally different points in their lives — Koecher as a single guy living with roommates and Cox Powell as a married mother of two.
Still, the possibility Koecher is alive, regardless of the circumstances, is better than some of the alternatives.
"If he's living in Brazil with Susan Powell and he's happy and well, then we'd be happy with that," Naegle said. "We just want to know."