Powell children suffered 'chop injury' before dying of carbon monoxide poisoning

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 8:18 p.m. MST

Denise Cox, sister to Susan Powell, is emotional as she talks with the press at Emma L. Carson Elementary School where her nephews went to school in Puyallup, Wash., Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Note: This story contains details that are graphic, and may disturb some readers

GRAHAM, Wash — A medical examiner said today that while the Powell children died officially of carbon monoxide poisoning, both children apparently received a "chop injury to the neck."

While the medical examiner would not elaborate, Josh Powell reportedly tried to kill his sons with a hatchet before setting the house on fire.

The official cause of death for all three was carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the report. The examiner called the  children's deaths homicide, and classified Powell's death as a suicide.

More details on the autopsy findings are expected later this evening.

Powell's last act, killing himself and his two sons, was planned in advance, according to Pierce county officials. Josh Powell donated boxes of toys and books to a Goodwill charity over the weekend before he murdered his two children in a fire, police said Monday. 

Powell, who died with the boys in the Sunday blaze, also sent multiple emails about what to do with his utilities, his money and other aspects of his life before he set the fire, said Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

"This is definitely a planned out event and this is something he planned on doing no matter who was hurt," he said.

The emails, addressed to a pastor, cousins, his attorney and others, were all sent minutes before his two boys arrived at his Washington home.

"We found two 5-gallon cans of gas. One was found with the bodies, the other we believe was spread throughout the house," he said. "There were accelerants throughout the entire house."

None of the emails contained information about his wife, Susan Cox Powell, who has been missing for more than two years. The content of the emails varied a little, but essentially said, "'I'm sorry. I can't live without my boys,' and that's it," Troyer said.

Family members — and many others who have been following the high-profile case — continued to struggle Monday to understand what went wrong.

"This isn't fair he had to be such a jerk and take them away with him," an emotional Denise Cox said in tears. She was reflective, angry and numb late Sunday as she stood at a candlelight vigil at the elementary school of her two nephews.

Arson investigators returned to the charred home Monday and could be seen bagging evidence and taking measurements. Debris from the fire, mostly insulation, was littered across lawns in the neighborhood.

"Pretty much devastation, not much left," Steve Richards, Graham Fire and Rescue's assistant chief, said of the scene Monday. "We're going to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together."

Autopsies were scheduled to be conducted Monday for Braden and Charlie Powell, ages 5 and 7. Troyer said no weapons were recovered and a preliminary examination of the bodies did not show any signs of gunshot wounds.

Investigators didn't yet know where the fire originated. The first firefighters arrived just three minutes after receiving the call. The nearest fire station is only one block away from Powell's home.

"Upon our arrival, the fire was burning hot," Richards said. "It was heavily involved, fire through the roof."

After Powell's father, Steven Powell, was arrested in September and charged with voyeurism and possession of child pornography, Josh Powell began renting the Graham home in October from owners Patrick and Necia Small.

"My concern was who he was. But I figured they had not convicted the man. He was due a second chance," Necia Small said Monday. "Our main concern (now) is the family."

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