SALT LAKE CITY — Relatives of Josh Powell have been at odds since his wife disappeared more than two years ago.
Now, even with his death, they remain in conflict.
One side is criticizing police work and a "broken system" that they say contributed to Josh Powell's decision to end his life and take his two young sons with him. Others are finding it difficult to see why there is any misplaced blame at all.
"There's no broken system here. Josh was broken," his estranged sister, Jennifer Graves, said Wednesday. "Josh did this and to blame anyone else for him taking a hatchet to their necks and blowing them up and causing them to suffer for their last breaths is wrong. It's wrong to say that anyone else is at fault here."
Jennifer and Kirk Graves of West Jordan met with reporters for two hours Wednesday, putting the blame squarely on Josh Powell, citing the controlling behavior of their father Steven Powell as contributing to his downfall, and revealing their plan to eventually care for the children.
The Graves had said they were working to adopt 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden Powell into their family and raise them as their own children, "until (Susan) can take over again," Jennifer Graves said.
A significant reminder of those plans now sits in their driveway — a 15-passenger van the couple purchased to make room for their family of seven they hoped would grow by two more.
Josh Powell had different plans.
When his father was taken to jail for investigation of voyeurism and possession of child pornography, Josh Powell had asked an aunt and uncle in Texas to take his boys "should the need arise," according to a statement released Tuesday by Maurice and Patti Leach.
The couple said they have become disillusioned with the legal system after watching the events of the more than 2-year-old case unfold.
"In our hearts and minds, we feel this family tragedy was set into motion from the beginning due in part to the various questionable government agencies' practices, religious bias, the Internet kangaroo courts, and sensationalized news media, all of whom have circumvented the laws that protect all of our rights to due process," the Leaches wrote. "Stewardship of the responsibilities that have been entrusted to those organizations and individuals has been completely compromised.
"America, this is not only a tragedy, Sunday was a dark day for all of our families," the statement continued, adding that the Leaches will hold all members of the lost Powell family in their hearts forever.
On Sunday, Josh Powell killed his children and himself after igniting gasoline he'd spread throughout his home, Washington police said. Investigators said the killings were planned and intentional. They said the 36-year-old father spent his last hours running errands, including a trip to the bank and to a gas station, where he purchased 10 gallons of gasoline and the accompanying containers that were later found charred in his home.
The Leaches said they stand by Josh Powell, citing his "great deal of restraint, with patience and dignity" in recent custody hearings, which they said came from a fear of losing his sons.
A judge hearing the case had recently ordered Josh Powell to undergo a psychosexual evaluation, including a polygraph test. She had said that if the results were positive, it would help his bid to get his children back.
Until then, Chuck and Judy Cox were awarded temporary custody. The Graves said Wednesday the Coxes wanted to remain the boys' grandparents and had a verbal agreement with the Utah couple to help them adopt the children.
Jennifer and Kirk Graves said they felt comfortable with the way things were going, that the judge had given Josh Powell no reason to feel hopeless.
"I think he knew those tests were not going to come back in his favor," Kirk Graves said Wednesday. "I think he knew that he was going to lose those boys permanently. I think he had indications that he would be arrested on the murder of their mother. He couldn't deal with that; he couldn't deal with the loss of control and he figure he'd hurt everybody."
Jennifer Graves said she had witnessed a gradual decline over the years in her brother's behavior. She said he was "a bit of an odd duck," but she felt he was making progress after moving to Utah in the fall of 2003 and getting away from his father, Steven Powell.
Once in Utah, he would spend hours on the phone with his father, multiple times a week, she said.
"If anyone knows anything, it would be Steve," Kirk Graves said, regarding Susan Cox Powell's disappearance. "When he finds a motive, then he'll talk."
Kirk Graves said there are "uncanny" parallels between the lives of Josh Powell and his father, including how they treated the women in their lives, evidenced by divorce documents filed in a Spokane court in 1994.
Pornography was a big part of that declaration then and obviously continued to be so, according to Kirk Graves. But he doesn't think Josh Powell suffered from any mental deficiencies.
"I don't think you can be unstable and plan it out the way he planned this out," he said. "This was not him being incapable of dealing with life. He planned, plotted and executed this thing very, very carefully."
Kirk Graves said that Josh and Jennifer's mother, Terri Powell, "is taking it very hard." He said she is distraught about losing her son and grandsons. Terri Powell has not spoken publicly about the deaths of her son and grandchildren.
Steven Powell remains in Pierce County Jail awaiting trial. "He's not communicating with us and we don't expect him to," Pierce County police Sgt. Ed Troyer said Wednesday.
Police in both Utah and Washington maintain that the case of the missing Utah woman is not closed, and Troyer said he hopes for resolution "for the kids sake."
"This is going to be in the memories of people for a long time and Susan's still missing," he said.
Troyer said Wednesday that police had confiscated the cell phone of Alina Powell of Washington because she had received several messages from her brother prior to Sunday's fire and had refused to voluntarily turn it over to investigators.
An attorney for the Coxes, Steve Downing, said police have evidence, including a rake taken from the back of the car Josh Powell apparently drove the night of Susan Powell's disappearance. However many details of the case have not been released.
Downing said that throughout the investigation, West Valley police enlisted the Coxes to "ruffle the feathers of Josh Powell."
One such instance involved an August honk-and-wave that was staged in the Puyallup neighborhood where Josh Powell was living with his father. Chuck Cox was standing on a street corner holding a sign with his missing daughter's picture to draw attention to her case. Reporters were present when Steven Powell approached him and the two got into a tense argument.
The incident pushed Josh Powell to file a restraining order against the Coxes. A judge later ordered Chuck Cox and Josh Powell to stay at least 500 feet away from each other at all times.
"Obviously it was a bit odd for all of us to be taking a number of directions from West Valley City police on a number of things they wanted done," Downing said.
The same weekend as the honk-and-wave confrontation, West Valley police were conducting a search of abandoned mine shafts in the desert near Ely, Nev. Investigators said they had new information in the Powell case that prompted the searches, but have never said what that evidence was.
Prior to conducting that two-day search, Downing said police had received statements from individuals involved with Puyallup's Gem and Mineral Club, about a bag of rocks at an exhibition.
"Josh and one of the boys seemed to be particularly interested, almost excessively interested, in a rock from Ely, Nev.," he said, adding that the subsequent actions of West Valley police were referred to by Josh Powell as "a circus."
The Graves stand by the police work that was done and said they never thought Josh Powell would kill his children. Jennifer Graves said that she is hurt by the actions of her brother and may never be able to forgive him.
"You just have to take it one day at a time and eventually the pain goes away at little at a time and eventually, you can be OK again," she said. Her family has not spoken to her since just after her sister-in-law went missing.
"They are very bitter and extremely angry I went against Josh," Jennifer Graves said. "They're closing their eyes to the truth and I can't control what they're willing to see and not see."54 comments on this story
The Leaches have expressed a desire to take care of the body of Josh Powell, but no funeral arrangements have been made.
The Coxes are responsible for funding what has become a large, public funeral for the two young Powell boys. A Charles and Braden Powell Memorial Fund has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank to help them cover the costs.
A service will be held Saturday, at 11 a.m., at Life Center Church, 1717 S. Union Avenue, in Tacoma and a more private LDS service for the boys will follow at a different location.