Three bodies were recovered this evening from the Graham-area home where Josh Powell was living and where he was to have a supervised visit with his children today. The home exploded just after noon today. The three killed are believed to be Powell and his 5- and 7-year-old sons.
Powell is a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell.
Sheriff’s deputies, fire crews and medical aid responded just after noon today to Powell’s home in the 8100 block of 189th Street Court East near Graham. The first call to 911 about the fire came in at 12:13 p.m., Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said. Graham Fire arrived within three minutes, and the house was fully engulfed.
The Pierce County medical examiner removed the three bodies from the house around 5:30 p.m. Sunday. The bodies were found together in the same room in the middle of the house, the medical examiner reported.
According to Gary Franz of Graham Fire & Rescue, Powell had a supervised visit today with his sons. A social worker brought the boys – Charlie and Braden – to the door; Powell opened the door and let the kids in, and then he shut the door, preventing the social worker from entering.
The social worker smelled gas and got away from the house. As she was making a call, the house exploded. She was banging on the doors and windows of the house as the flames spread.
The social worker is traumatized and meeting with investigators, Troyer said. She knew the boys well and had taken the boys to visits with their father several times.
According to The Associated Press, Powell’s attorney received a note from his client moments before the explosion. It read: “I’m sorry, goodbye.”
Attorney Jeffrey Bassett tells The Associated Press the email arrived at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, but he didn’t see it until two hours later, when others informed him of the blast. He says he knew Josh was upset after being ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation recently, but he didn’t see this coming.
Troyer said that emails from Powell’s account also began arriving in others’ inboxes. He wasn’t specific about who was receiving the messages.
“We are getting emails from him,” Troyer said. “They lead us to believe that this is intentional, this is planned.”
Troyer said it is unknown if the children were killed before the explosion.
Powell’s older son attended Carson Elementary School in Puyallup. The younger son was not yet enrolled in school.
Steve Downing, a lawyer for the boys’ maternal grandparents, tells The Associated Press that they are beyond devastated. They always feared Josh would do something like this.
Franz said the home is now a crime scene, and the case has become a joint investigation between Graham Fire and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Troyer said investigators are trying to get a search warrant to go through what’s left of the house.
Neighbor Jessica Lyon, 18, said she was laying on the couch in her home when the explosion occurred. “The whole house shook. It was like an earthquake. It was huge,” Lyon said.
Lyon looked outside and saw the insulation from the house raining down.
More than 30 neighbors gathered around the scene before firefighters arrived and reported hearing two more explosions after that. There were at least three explosions total, neighbors said.
The house is nearly disintegrated, and what’s left is smoldering. Helicopters are flying overhead. A Graham fire station is about two blocks from the Powell home.
“What happened here was a deeply wrong thing. It was an act of evil. It wasn’t a tragedy,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said today.
“We wish he would have left the boys alone,” Troyer said. “For it to end this way makes everybody very, very sick.”
Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, has been notified in jail of what happened. Powell is in jail on charges related to possessing pornography.
The Puyallup neighborhood where Susan Cox Powell’s parents live – and where Josh and Susan Powell’s sons resided until their deaths – was quiet on Sunday afternoon. There were no children out playing on a sunny Sunday.
Kathy Schill, who lives down the block from the Coxes and has known them for years, said the situation was tragic. Susan Powell babysat Schill’s children, and she’s always had affection for the family.
Schill said didn’t see the boys much, but said having them living there was “a way to have a piece of Susan with them.”
Other neighbors confirmed that the boys weren’t out much, but the weather’s been bad and they’ve been in school, they said.
Staff writers Stacia Glenn, Debbie Cafazzo, Kathleen Cooper, Adam Lynn and Peter Haley contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. We will update as soon as more information is available.
PREVIOUS POWELL COVERAGE:
Feb. 1: To regain custody, Josh Powell must have psycho-sexual exam
Sept. 24, 2011: Increasingly odd Powell saga unfolds in South Sound
Sept. 13, 2011: Police search Utah desert for Susan Cox Powell
January 2010: Utah police search minivan of missing woman’s husband