"We shouldn't have been treating the case the way they did here in Washington state," Roach said. "The fact of the matter is it's our responsibility as adults and, in this case, an agency, to protect children. They should have been doing just that and they, in my opinion, didn't."
Thomas Shapley of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services said West Valley police sent documents and images that had been recovered from Powell's computer. Only a few people were allowed to view the items, but both a social worker and a psychologist under contract with DSHS were among them.
"Without the introduction of that material, there's a good chance the court could have set about the process to return the children to Mr. Powell," Shapley said. "Senator Roach seems to think we drug our feet or we failed to act on the information out of Utah. We acted on it."
The troubling questions and search for understanding has put the focus on Josh Powell and his father, Steven. Trouble appeared long before Josh ever met Susan Cox.
It was in November 1992, when Powell was 16, that his mother expressed concerns about her sons and what she felt they were learning from her Steven Powell, her husband.
"To see them becoming so hardened toward others and scornful of law and order is very frightening to me," Terrica Powell wrote in a court declaration. "I feel that they are being victimized by Steve's distorted teachings. I am hoping that they will be able to receive the kind of help they need in time to prevent them from destroying their lives, or others' lives around them."
The disturbing details of Josh Powell's adolescence can be found in close to 200 pages of court documents filed as part of a divorce proceeding. They include threats he allegedly made to his mother with a butcher knife, and his killing of a pet hamster. Terrica Powell wrote numerous times about Josh Powell, who apparently followed his father's lead in harassing and abusing their mother, according to the documents.
"With the kind of disrespect the kids have learned to have regarding laws, I worry about what they will do," Terrica Powell wrote. "It seems like there is a sickness pervading my family and I have been powerless to stop it."
Still, the woman wrote that Josh "has shown moments of thoughtfulness and cooperation" and "sometimes shows a very sweet side." In one declaration, an aunt said Josh Powell, then 14, attempted suicide by hanging.
Terrica Powell said many of her son's issues at the time might have stemmed from a turbulent relationship with his father. Steven Powell would "pointedly attack" Josh Powell, she stated in the documents.
"I think that much of Josh's difficulties through the years has stemmed from not knowing where the boundaries are — what are the limits of acceptable behavior," she said .
Time and time again, the documents and affidavits characterize Steven Powell as controlling, manipulative and verbally abusive. All of these traits have also been used to describe his son. Steven Powell remains in a Washington jail awaiting trial on children pornography and voyeurism charges.
Rachel Marini, who knew Josh Powell before he married Susan Cox, said she and her husband, Tim, became good friends with the couple in Washington. But she eventually started to take issue with the way Josh Powell treated his wife.
"Every restaurant we ate at, Susan could have one thing from the dollar menu, but he could have whatever he wanted," Marini said, recalling a road trip the group took. "He just had to be in control of every situation and the one who called all of the shots."
Marini said she was also concerned about the callousness with which he treated his children. He wouldn't extend his hand to keep a young Charlie from falling down the stairs, instead calling Susan Cox Powell in from another room to help the child. At one point, the boy appeared malnourished because Josh Powell said he wasn't "wasting his table food" on the child.
"Josh has always scared me as a parent," Marini said. "He's never been an attentive or responsible parent."
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