Powell family tragedy will carry into 2013

Published: Sunday, Dec. 30 2012 1:00 p.m. MST

Photos of Charlie Powell (R) and Braden Powell are displayed during their funeral service February 11, 2012 in Tacoma, Washington. The boys died February 5, 2012, when their father, Josh Powell, set fire to the home he was living in while they were visiting.

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WEST VALLEY CITY — On Feb. 5, as most residents were returning home from church or making final preparations for their Super Bowl parties, two short tweets sent by the Pierce County Sheriff's Office marked the beginning of what would become the biggest — and among the most tragic — news story of the year in Utah, even though the events happened 850 miles away in Washington state.

"Rescue operation in progress. Head towards Powell residence. Stand by" and "All media please stand by. Will have more in a few" were the consecutive tweets sent by detective Ed Troyer.

The calm Sunday turned into a frantic rush as official reports of an explosion and fire at the home of Josh Powell started coming in. In the days and weeks that followed, horrific details about the deaths of 7-year-old Charlie Powell and his 5-year-old brother Braden were revealed as well as the disturbing dynamics within the Powell family.

By August, thousands of pages of police reports and child welfare documents detailing the negative influence Josh Powell was having on his children had been released. Just a few months earlier, his father, Steven Powell, had been sentenced to prison for surreptitiously taking photographs of young neighbor girls in their home. Graphic and highly troubling pictures, videos and personal diaries outlined his obsession with his missing daughter-in-law. A memorial for Charlie and Braden Powell was constructed in their honor.

Despite the tumultuous year, this tragic family story has not yet ended.

Susan Powell remains missing and presumed dead. Steven Powell, 62, is scheduled to be released from custody in May. Two young girls who were the victims of Powell's voyeuristic habits when they lived next door to his Puyallup, Wash., home have filed a civil lawsuit against him. Trial for that suit is scheduled for 2014.

In yet more legal action, a guardian ad litem for Susan Powell filed a lawsuit on her behalf against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services alleging negligence in the deaths of her sons. A trial is scheduled for June.

Anne Bremner, the Seattle-based attorney for Chuck and Judy Cox, Susan Powell's parents, has threatened to file a civil lawsuit against West Valley City for not releasing all police records connected to the missing person/murder case. The West Valley Police Department has cut back on the number of people working the Susan Powell missing persons investigation but still considers the Powell case to be active.

Meanwhile, the legal wrangling continues over who should get the money from Josh and Susan Powell's life insurance policies: Josh Powell's siblings or Susan Powell's parents.

Unimaginable tragedy

On Feb. 1, a bitter and long custody battle between Josh Powell and his missing wife's parents apparently reached a breaking point when a Tacoma, Wash., judge ruled that Powell would not regain full custody of his boys. In addition, the judge ordered Powell to undergo a psychosexual evaluation. He left the courtroom without speaking to reporters and with a look of frustration on his face.

Four days later, just as a social worker with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services was taking Charlie and Braden Powell to their father's new rental house, Powell took his boys inside and locked the social worker out. A few minutes later, the house erupted in an inferno.

The next day the grief deepened with the shocking revelation that Powell used a hatchet on this two sons before he ignited his gasoline-soaked home. Questions were immediately raised about whether the tragedy could have been prevented — either by arresting Powell earlier in the suspected death of his wife (he had been and remains the prime suspect) or by not allowing Josh Powell to have access to his sons.

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