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Documents detail Josh Powell's 'anger triggers'

Published: Friday, March 2 2012 9:19 p.m. MST

Josh Powell speaks during a court hearing regarding the custody of his two sons, Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. (Ted S. Warren) Josh Powell speaks during a court hearing regarding the custody of his two sons, Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. (Ted S. Warren)

SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Powell's documented interactions with his two young sons reveal "anger triggers" that included the Cox family, the LDS Church and other family members.

About 1,700 additional pages of documents relating to Powell and his family were released Friday by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. The documents included court filings, case reports, doctor evaluations and more.

Many of the documents repeated what was already reported when nearly 1,000 pages were released last month. But they also shed more light into the mental state of Powell and his two sons and how their attitudes seemed to change over the months they were monitored. While the psychological well-being of the children seemed to genuinely improve while with their grandparents, Powell tried to improve his standing with his evaluators, only to be tripped up by his own responses to his children.

Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, listens during a court hearing regarding the custody of his two sons, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press) Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, listens during a court hearing regarding the custody of his two sons, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

Powell killed 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden Feb. 5 as a social worker took them to his home for a supervised visit. He locked the woman out of the house, then struck his sons with a hatchet before dousing the inside of his house with gasoline and igniting a fireball. Powell also died in the fire.

Since the murders, many have questioned whether enough was done by officials in Washington state to protect the boys and whether enough information was shared between police, welfare officials and the courts.

Last week, Chuck and Judy Cox, the grandparents who had been given temporary custody of Charlie and Braden, spoke at a public hearing hosted by a state senator who is calling for change in the way Child Protective Services and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services do business.

The Coxes believe that there were enough red flags — especially after Powell was ordered to undergo a psychosexual evaluation four days before he killed his sons — that he should not have been allowed any type of visitation with the children.

Chuck and Judy Cox, in-laws of Josh Powell, speak during a news conference about how they say Washington's child protection system is flawed, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, in Olympia, Wash. The two said Thursday that they are hoping to see changes to better ensure safety of children involved in custody cases. The Cox family had cared for Powell's two young boys until he killed the children and himself in a fire earlier this month. (Elaine Thompson, AP) Chuck and Judy Cox, in-laws of Josh Powell, speak during a news conference about how they say Washington's child protection system is flawed, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, in Olympia, Wash. The two said Thursday that they are hoping to see changes to better ensure safety of children involved in custody cases. The Cox family had cared for Powell's two young boys until he killed the children and himself in a fire earlier this month. (Elaine Thompson, AP)

But in a report dated Jan. 5, 2012, caseworkers noted that there was no evidence to cause them any concern about the physical safety of the children with their father, which is DSHS's primary objective. But the report added, "This is not a typical case in many ways."

Caseworkers noted they had two main areas of concern with Josh Powell's parenting:

• "Mr. Powell has demonstrated over time in several situations his inability to consider the psychological effect on his comments on his children."

• "Mr. Powell's current legal situation with regard to Susan Powell's disappearance and the incestual computer-generated child pornography found by Utah law enforcement on Josh's computer ... make his home unstable in that law enforcement is quite clear and public with their intention to arrest him in the near future."

Debbie Caldwell talks about Susan, Charlie and  Braden Powell in Salt Lake County  Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012. Caldwell runs a child care business.  Josh Powell and his two sons were killed in an explosion in Washington. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Debbie Caldwell talks about Susan, Charlie and Braden Powell in Salt Lake County Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012. Caldwell runs a child care business. Josh Powell and his two sons were killed in an explosion in Washington. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Social workers feared severe harm if the two boys witnessed their father's arrest.

"This worker cannot imagine there would be another scenario that would be as  psychologically damaging as witnessing this at this point due to all the other adjustment issues with which they are currently dealing (their mother being gone with no valid explanation, moving residences at least twice in the last two years, ongoing family conflict, being without their father, missing their paternal relatives, being recognized in public to include people approaching them and staring, isolation from peers — particular to Charlie at school)."

Like in the first set of released documents, Friday's batch also outlined potential behavioral problems with the children, which seemed to improve after they were placed with the Cox family.

The children began living with their grandparents on Sept 22, 2011. A state report on Charlie from Sept. 26 noted that "counseling is recommended given the multiple stressors in his life."

A family photo of the Powell family. Josh Powell killed himself and his two sons when he set fire to his home in Graham, Wash. Susan Powell has been missing for more than two years when she disappeared from the family's home in West Valley City. (, Family photo) A family photo of the Powell family. Josh Powell killed himself and his two sons when he set fire to his home in Graham, Wash. Susan Powell has been missing for more than two years when she disappeared from the family's home in West Valley City. (, Family photo)

A child health and education tracking report for Charlie dated Oct. 19, 2011, noted that "Charlie has told his grandparents that he does not like school because people don't like him. The grandparents think this is because of the situation they are in and what other children may be hearing or saying."

The report noted concerns that Charlie "worries about everything, he can be selfish" and at times anti-social.

A report dated Oct. 26 noted that Charlie had made comments such as, "My grandparents are evil," and "I know my grandparents are trying to keep me from seeing my dad."

A report for Braden noted that he "seems to like it when he takes something and it makes the other person mad, cry or get in trouble and seems to have no regard for others." Yet another report showed that Braden felt sad when others were hurt.

Officials investigate at the home of Josh Powell in Graham, Wash., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Officials investigate at the home of Josh Powell in Graham, Wash., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Both the Cox family and Josh Powell agreed that counseling was needed for both children.

Josh Powell's manipulative behavior in an attempt to gain custody of his children is revealed in three statements released in the records:

The day after the boys were removed from Josh Powell's house in September, he told the state that the Coxes were "the most dangerous people on the planet to my sons."

But in a declaration by Powell submitted to the court on Feb. 1, just days before Powell murdered his children, he said, "If anyone wants to be honest with themselves and the situation, the real story is not that anyone is a bad person, including me. The story is one of overcoming and rising above what many people think are insurmountable challenges. I know my own heart is free of any guilt regardless what people claim. I know the Coxes and others have suffered as much as me and it is time to let go of hurtful attitudes."

A note on a balloon at the home of Josh Powell in Graham, Wash., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) A note on a balloon at the home of Josh Powell in Graham, Wash., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

In that same declaration, Powell tries to convince the state that, "a lesser person would fall under the intense scrutiny I am facing, but apparently my inherent resilience as a person makes it increasingly difficult for them to pursue their agendas."

In one case report, state officials noted that Josh Powell "has not been diagnosed with anything but there is a concern about possible mental illness," and wrote, "He is a suspect in the murder of his wife Susan Cox Powell." A later diagnosis concluded Powell possibly had adjustment disorder with anxiety and traits of narcissistic personality disorder.

Anger triggers

Powell admitted in a Dec. 12, 2011 report that he had "anger triggers" which included the Cox family, people who lie or try to manipulate him, the LDS Church and his father's inappropriate obsession with Susan.

But in other reports, evaluators noted that despite Powell's apparent anger at his father, it didn't seem to be enough to break his loyalty to him.

Caseworkers noticed other topics, such as the media and his estranged sister, Jennifer Graves, that would especially anger Josh Powell. They reported that he would become overly focused on them, even focusing on those topics during visits with his children and in spite of discouragement from those supervising him.

An example is given in the evaluation, when a woman sat in on a session with Josh Powell and his sons following his father Steven Powell's arrest. The woman told Josh Powell that he needed to explain the arrest to his children at their level and encouraged him to offer as much of the truth as was possible.

"Josh informed the boys that the Mormon police had made up bad information about their grandpa and put him in jail and that they were trying to do the same thing to him," the woman recounted.

Powell often reacted strongly when his children would mention his in-laws or their mother, Susan Cox Powell, during his visits with the boys. Susan Powell has been missing since 2009 and police believe Josh Powell is responsible for her disappearance.

During a supervised visit on Nov. 27, state worker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall noted that Braden asked his dad about his favorite colors. "Dad said, 'All the colors are my favorite just like Mommy.' Charlie argued and said Grandma said that purple was Mommy's favorite. Dad said that she loved all the colors and they knew Mommy so it didn't matter what other people said."

Later Braden said, "'They found Mommy in the desert.' Dad asked them, 'Who said that?' The boys didn't answer Dad and stopped talking. Dad became agitated and turned red. He asked the boys again and they did not respond," Griffin-Hall wrote. "I changed the subject back to eating dessert. Dad did not appear to recover his balance and composure during the rest of the visit. He remained agitated and seemed angry at the situation."

Powell letters

Handwritten letters Powell wrote to his boys after they were removed from his house and staying with the Coxes were also released Friday. Powell indicated that he wrote a letter to each son every day. The short letters generally said, "I love you" and "I can't wait to see you." In a letter dated Oct. 3, 2011, Powell tells Charlie, "Everything I do is for you."

On Oct. 6, 2011, Powell asks his sons to write back to him, noting that he had not received letters from them yet. On Oct. 8, he wrote to his young sons that his letters to them may be delayed because he was told to send them "through the government" instead of directly to the Cox family.

Mother comments

Detailed accounts of the visits Elizabeth Griffin-Hall supervised on Sundays at Josh Powell's home also shed light on discussions between the father and his sons about their missing mother.

• During a dinner conversation with the boys' temporary foster parents on Sept. 26, 2011, Charlie "was agitated, especially talking about police." He told the family police were supposed to collect information, not make people feel bad or say things that aren't true.

• That same evening, Charlie "talked about a graveyard, and 'of course they're going to find bones there,'" a report states. "Then he said, 'I'm talking about Susan, because she's a girl and he's a boy.'"

• During an Oct. 2, 2011, supervised visit with his father, "Braden asked if Dad lived in the same house as with Mommy. Daddy said that home was in Colorado and he was here. He redirected Braden's attention to photos," Griffin-Hall wrote.

• At a Dec. 4, 2011 visit, Griffin-Hall reported that a Christmas tree and lights were up and that Josh Powell left ornaments out for the boys to use to decorate. Charlie found Susan's stocking, but Powell told him to return it to the box. The boy, instead, placed it on the floor, where it remained for the rest of the visit.

A previous report, also released Friday, describes a May 2010 visit with Chuck Cox's elderly parents. Cox reported that "Braden announced after looking at a woman in a magazine and pointing at her chest, 'Mommy oucheey.'"

Mormon animosity

Although Susan Powell was active in the LDS Church in Utah and Josh Powell had resumed church attendance with her shortly before she disappeared, in an interview following his father's arrest, Powell described his religious affiliation as "not Mormon." He would later report in an evaluation that he believed the Coxes and a "militant faction" of Mormons were trying to "kidnap" his children.

Powell's animosity toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how it rubbed off on his children were noted in several documents:

• At a Dec. 4, 2011 supervised visit at Josh Powell's home, Griffin-Hall wrote: "Charlie said, 'We are good Mormon boys.' Dad said, 'No, you are not Mormon and don't let anyone tell you that you are.'"

• A monthly status report from Family Preservation Services dated Nov. 28, 2011, noted that Charlie had symptoms of depression/anxiety and that the children "were initially angry at the grandparents due to beliefs that the grandparents had done 'bad things' to their mom and that 'Mormons do bad things to families.'"

• Listed as an area of concern to evaluators during Josh Powell's psychological examination was the fact that Charles and Braden were both heard talking about "Mormons trying to steal them," "Mormons trying to harm them" and stating that they "hate Jesus."

• In a Feb. 18, 2011, Department of Social and Health Services report, it was noted that Charlie proclaimed at school, "The Mormons killed my brother and my mom." When a student asked if Charlie had a brother, he replied: "Yeah, it's just me and my dad."

The Department of Social and Health Services recently announced who was selected to serve on the Child Fatality Review Team for the Powell children. A review team is selected for every DSHS case that involves a death. The 12-member team includes attorneys, police, child welfare advocates, a psychologist and Washington state lawmakers.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam, DNewsCrimeTeam

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