WEST VALLEY CITY — For the past two months there has been a lot of media attention on Josh Powell and his father, Steven Powell.
Saturday, the focus shifted back to West Valley mother Susan Cox Powell as friends and family members held a birthday celebration in her honor and to remind the public that she is still missing.
"It's been a good day," said Kirk Graves, Susan's brother-in-law. "This is the first decent birthday she's had since she's disappeared."
Sunday is Susan Cox Powell's 30th birthday. This weekend, small parties were being held Saturday in West Valley and Sunday in Susan's hometown of Puyallup, Wash.
Graves said part of what made this year's birthday celebration so good was knowing that Susan's two sons are safe.
At West View Park, near 4100 South and 6000 West, on Saturday, dozens of purple balloons were released into the air in Susan's honor. All of them had small business card-size "missing" fliers tied to them with Susan's picture and information on her case.
Messages of support taken from the Friends and Family of Susan Cox Powell Facebook wall were typed up and taped to many of the balloons.
Powell has been missing since December 2009. In recent weeks there has been a flurry of media attention on her father-in-law, Steven Powell, who was arrested and charged in Pierce County, Wash., with voyeurism and possession of child porn — and on Josh Powell, Susan's husband, who temporarily lost custody of their two sons when a judge ruled his house was not a safe place for them.
But on Saturday, friends were happy to put the focus back on their missing loved one.
"That's been our focus all along. We're not here to accuse Josh. We just want to find Susan," said her best friend, Kiirsi Hellewell.
Saturday's party had a purple theme, Susan's favorite color. Many of the two to three dozen people who attended wore purple. Cookies to celebrate Susan's birthday were placed on top of purple tableclothes, and purple wristbands were handed out.
West Valley Mayor Mike Winder, wearing a purple wristband and a purple ribbon pinned to his shirt, gave a short speech before the balloons were released.
"This is an important gathering," he told the group. "It's a melancholy birthday celebration."
It was important for the community to keep Susan's memory alive, Winder said. He reiterated that investigations take time and that police are working hard to solve the case. Winder said according to West Valley's police chief detectives still have six to eight weeks worth of evidence collected through recent searches to go through.
"We're getting very close in solving this," Winder said Chief Buzz Nielsen told him.
He also, as many others have done, encouraged Josh Powell to talk to police about what he knows, whether it's with West Valley detectives, the FBI or another agency.
Hellewell said she is grateful for all of the efforts by police, noting that for many officers finding Susan had now "gone beyond a job" as many have taken the case personally.
Hellewell said the recent series of events surrounding the case — including searches in Ely, Nev.; Topaz Mountain; and at Steven Powell's home — have put everyone on a roller coaster of emotions.
"It's extremely hard. It causes us so much stress. It affects me physically," she said.
But she said the case being back in the spotlight was better than "all the months of not having anything."
Sunday's birthday celebration will include a balloon release at a park in Puyallup, Wash. But Jennifer Graves, Josh Powell's sister, said Susan's two sons and their grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, would not be there. Because of the recent court order to keep the children out of the media spotlight while the Coxes have temporary custody of the boys, they would likely just be having a private birthday celebration in their backyard, Graves said.7 comments on this story
Many children attended Saturday's party. Hellewell said there were many in Susan's West Valley neighborhood who knew her, including her own children who were all aware that Susan is missing.
"They've been living the nightmare with me," she said. "Kids feel the same grief and sadness as adults do.
Another custody hearing for Josh and Susan Powell's sons is scheduled for Nov. 15, and a jury trial for Steven Powell in his separate criminal case will take place on Nov. 16.