GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) — A powerful house explosion killed the husband of a Utah woman who has been missing for two years, and his two young sons Sunday, moments after the boys arrived for a visit that was supposed to be supervised by a social worker.
The Child Protective Services worker brought the two boys to Josh Powell’s home, and Powell let his sons inside — but then blocked the social worker from entering, Graham Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Franz told The Associated Press.
The social worker called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas, and moments later the home exploded. What’s left of the house was still smoking Sunday evening.
“Everything we know right now, this has become a crime scene,” Franz said.
It was a horrific end to a long, bizarre tale. Josh Powell was under investigation in the disappearance of his 28-year-old wife from their West Valley City, Utah, home in December 2009. He claimed he had taken the boys on a midnight excursion in freezing temperatures when she vanished.
Susan Powell was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009. Josh Powell told police he last saw his wife around midnight, when he put their sons in the family’s minivan and took them on a late-night camping trip in Utah’s west desert.
The boys were removed from Josh Powell’s custody on Sept. 22, the same day Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, with whom the three were living, was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography.
The children, 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie, had been living with Susan Powell’s parents since Josh Powell’s father Steven was arrested on child porn and voyeurism charges last fall. On Wednesday, a judge had denied an attempt by Josh Powell to regain custody, saying she wouldn’t consider returning the two boys to their father until he underwent a psycho-sexual evaluation.
Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ed Troyer described the fire as an intentional act that came shortly after Powell sent an email to his attorney apologizing and saying goodbye.
Three bodies, believed to be those of Powell and his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, were found in the house, authorities said. All were found in the same room.
Troyer called the deaths “a double murder-suicide.”
“What happened here was a deeply wrong thing,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor told reporters near the house. “It was an act of evil. Do not call it a tragedy because that sanitizes it. This was a terrible act of murder involving two young children.”
The case took a bizarre turn last year after Powell’s father, Steve, was arrested for investigation of voyeurism and possessing child pornography. Josh was living at his father’s home at the time, and a judge gave Susan Powell’s parents custody of the boys.
“It’s the most horrifying thing you can imagine happening,” said lawyer Steve Downing, who represented Susan Powell’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, in the custody fight. “The Coxes are absolutely devastated. They were always very fearful of him doing something like this, and he did it.”
Jeffrey Bassett, who represented Josh Powell in the custody case, said he received a three-word email from his client just minutes before Powell and his two boys died in a house explosion. It said, “I’m sorry, goodbye.”
The email arrived at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, about 10 minutes before the explosion, but he didn’t see it two hours later, when others told him Josh and the boys had been killed. He said he knew Josh was upset after being ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation recently, but he didn’t see this coming.
Sgt. Mike Powell of the West Valley City Police Department in Utah, which is handling the investigation into Susan Powell’s disappearance, said it was too soon to say how Josh Powell’s death may impact their probe.
“Quite frankly, this has obviously quickly unfolded up in Washington and we’re obviously just working through the details ourselves here,” Powell said Sunday.
“We are in contact with authorities,” Powell added. “It’s obviously an ongoing situation in Washington at this point.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.