Lawmaker: 'Red flags' were there throughout Josh Powell's life

Published: Thursday, Feb. 9 2012 8:00 p.m. MST

The home of Josh Powell in Graham, Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Josh Powell shut the door on Elizabeth Griffin-Hall the social worker said she heard two things:

"I heard him say, 'Charlie, I've got a real surprise for you!' and that was real normal because he always had surprises for the children," Griffin-Hall told ABC News Thursday.

And then, "I heard Braden cry out and I thought Braden had bumped his foot."

Griffin-Hall said she started calling out: "Let me in!," knocking on the door and ringing the bell. But she was shut out.

The sound of a child in pain and the smell of gasoline were immediate indicators of the irrevocable damage Powell was about to cause. But it was just the final warning sign in a lifetime full of them.

Court documents reveal Powell had a troubled adolescence filled with tension and violence. Longtime friends cite examples of behavior called both callous and selfish. Interviews and evidence gathered following the disappearance of his wife pointed to bizarre actions. And most recently, an "alert" sent to the Washington courts from authorities in Utah citing pornographic material found in his home have lawmakers and others asking why Powell was allowed near his children.

"Here we have Josh Powell with lots of accusations, lots of red flags and he's fast-tracked to reunification with visits in his own home," Washington state Sen. Pamela Roach, R-Auburn, said. "It should be at a distant location, if it's going to happen at all. In the case of Josh Powell, with all of the things we know, maybe it shouldn't have happened at all."

Sunday, Griffin-Hall said she initially thought the door slamming in front of her was a mistake. There was a second just before the door closed when she saw Powell.

"His eyes caught mine and he had a look in his eyes," she said. "If I were to describe it as a look on his face, it was, kind of … it was friendly enough, it was just kind of sheepish."

She went to her car and called 911 and would spend eight minutes convincing dispatchers that Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, were in real danger.  

By the time police arrived — reportedly 22 minutes after Griffin-Hall placed the call — the home was a massive blaze. The two boys and their father were later found dead inside.

"It was unreal to me, it was an incredulous thought that Josh Powell had murdered his children and he had murdered his children while they were in my care,” Griffin-Hall said.

Roach said the deaths of the boys have left the people of Washington "up in arms" and wondering how a man who took his children camping in subzero temperatures, allowed them to live in a home where their grandfather was allegedly making and viewing pornography and was under investigation in the disappearance of his wife was allowed to have visits at his home.

"I want to see what the judge was given," Roach said. "Maybe it was the judge. Maybe it was the department (of social and health services), but in some manner the information that was so important that was coming from Utah to our state was not heeded and I think we need an investigation here."

Roach was referring to an alert that she said was sent by the West Valley City Police Department to the court and child protective services in Washington. Roach said the information was pertinent enough to the Powell children's welfare that police sent it in advance of a Feb. 1 custody hearing.

It resulted in Powell being ordered to undergo a a psychosexual exam, a test apparently recommended by West Valley City, Roach said.

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