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AP Photo/Hardman Photography, Amber Hardman
This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows Susan Powell. The 28-year-old mother from the Salt Lake City area was reported missing on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009.

DELTA — Human remains have been found during the search for evidence in the case of missing West Valley City mother Susan Cox Powell.

Cadaver dogs discovered what police said are "absolutely human remains" Wednesday afternoon during the third day of searching the area near Topaz Mountain in Juab County.

Chuck Cox, Susan's father, said he received a call from West Valley police at his home in Puyallup, Wash., about 30 minutes before the first of many media calls.

"They said they had found a place they were interested in," he said.

Cox said Susan and husband Josh Powell had "done some rock hunting" near Topaz Mountain in the past.

"This is not unexpected in that area that they would find something out there," he said. "I'm sure there are people who have died in the desert that nobody knows about."

Cox said all he and his wife can do now is wait for tests to be conducted to determine if the remains are male or female and how long they had been there.

"Now it's a matter of letting real science work," Cox said. "That just takes time."

The Cox family has spent a lot of time waiting to receive news about their daughter since her disappearance in December 2009. The fact that bones have been discovered really doesn't change the difficulty of waiting, he said.

"Every time a new hope comes up, we think, 'Maybe this is the one.' That's what we live with every day. Maybe the next phone call will be the one they say, 'We found her.'"

Likewise, Susan Cox Powell’s brother-in-law, Kirk Graves, said this wasn’t the first time his family had gone through this.

“It’s a hard thing to hear. It’s an emotional thing,” Graves said. “One way or another, we will find some closure on this thing.”

Kiirsi Hellewell, one of Susan's closest friends, said the discovery "feels more ominous and a lot more emotional" than previous leads because the remains were found while police were searching the area for Susan.

"This is different from other cases where some person has been out in the wilderness and stumbled across some bones," she said.

Waiting for officials to determine the identity of the remains "is going to be tough," Hellewell said.

"If they're not Susan, we hope that maybe another family who's missing a loved one … will have some answers," she said. "We'll just continue on, just keep praying, keep hoping and keep trying to find her."

Since Monday, a team of investigators from West Valley, along with deputies from the Juab and Carbon county sheriff's offices, have been conducting an investigation in and around Topaz Mountain west of Nephi and northwest of Delta.

Search teams had returned for lunch early Wednesday afternoon and were waiting for a team with several cadaver dogs to join them, but it didn't return. That's when investigators learned that the dogs had located human remains during their search.

"Several of the dogs indicated positively several times that it is human remains," West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt said. "These dogs are able to distinguish the difference between human and animal remains. They don't pay attention to animal remains. They're not interested in them whatsoever."

There was no immediate details about the condition of the remains or whether any clothing was also located. Investigators were not even saying the exact location of the remains.

"At this point, we don't want to jump to any conclusions and say that we've made any kind of positive identification, because we have not," Merritt said. "What we do know is they are human remains."

The lieutenant said it is likely there are other human remains located within 100 square miles of the area, and he agreed that locating the remains was similar to finding a needle in a haystack.

"The chances are probably not very good (that remains would be found), and that's exactly why we have cadaver dogs out here," Merritt said. "Coming across one is quite the achievement."

Other teams continued to search the area while investigators processed the scene where the remains were located, he said.

"Just in case this turns out to be nothing, we don't want to be sitting around wasting our time for a few hours," Merritt said.

This is the third publicly visible search in the case in the past month. On Aug. 25, detectives from the West Valley City Police Department, with assistance from the Pierce County Sheriff's Office in Washington, went to Puyallup to serve a search warrant on the home of Steve and Josh Powell, Susan's father-in-law and husband.

On Aug. 19-20, abandoned mine shafts were searched in the mountains outside of Ely, Nev.

Susan Cox Powell, a 28-year-old mother of two, has been missing since Dec. 6, 2009.

The night before she was reported missing, Josh Powell said he took their two young children camping in single-digit temperatures in a remote part of Tooele County in the middle of the night. When he returned a day and a half later, he said his wife was gone.

Josh Powell has been called a person of interest in the case because West Valley police say he has been uncooperative.

Topaz Mountain is less than 30 miles from Simpson Springs, the area Josh Powell told investigators he went camping that night with his sons.

Contributing: Sarah Dallof, Jared Page

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam