GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) — Josh Powell planned the deadly house fire that killed him and his young sons for some time, dropping toys at charities and sending final emails to multiple acquaintances before the blaze, authorities said Monday.
Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, died along with his children Sunday.
He had been named a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance and just last week was denied custody of his children. The fire happened when a social worker dropped them off for what was supposed to be a supervised visit.
Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ed Troyer said authorities found two, five-gallon gasoline cans inside the home. A five-gallon can was spread throughout the house and used as an accelerant in the huge blaze.
Another can was found by the bodies, he said.
Troyer said Josh Powell did send longer emails to some people, including his cousin and pastor, with instructions such as where to find his money and how to shut off his utilities.
But none of the emails said anything about what happened to his wife, and were sent just before the huge fire.
“They do show that he was intending on doing this before it occurred,” Troyer said. “We believe he planned this event out and had taken certain steps. This is definitely a deliberate, planned out event.”
Autopsy results could be available later Monday, but Troyer said “there were no gunshot wounds.”
Earlier, the maternal grandparents of Powell’s two sons said the boys played happily and didn’t want to visit their father when the time came for their weekly Sunday visit.
But Charles and Judy Cox told KIRO-TV that the grandmother talked them into a court-ordered, supervised child custody visit with their father — a decision she now regrets.
“Look what happened,” Judy Cox tearfully told the station. “But I knew that they’re supposed to be able to see their dad.”
Charles Cox said he didn’t think there was any more the court could have done legally to protect his grandchildren, but he wished there had been.
“There were too many warning signs that I feel were known, but due to legal limitations were unable to be acted upon,” he said.
The Coxes opened their home to news reporters Monday to give a glimpse of the boys’ life with them. Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, had been living with them since last fall, when the state removed them from their father’s custody.
On the night of their daughter’s disappearance, Josh Powell had claimed, he had taken the boys on a midnight camping trip in freezing temperatures in Utah, where the family lived.
Police who arrived at the home to look for the family found two fans pointed at a damp spot on the floor, but no trace of Susan. Her body has never been found, despite intensive searches in Utah and Nevada.
Powell maintained custody of the boys as the scrutiny upon him intensified over the years.
He moved to his father Steve Powell’s home in Puyallup. Last fall, when the elder Powell was arrested in a voyeurism and child pornography case, the state turned the boys over to the Coxes.
On Monday, authorities continued sifting through the smoking rubble of the home looking for evidence, and the medical examiner’s office was working to determine cause of death.
It remained unclear how the deaths might affect the investigation into Susan’s disappearance.
On Sunday, the lawyer for Susan Powell’s parents said the children had started talking to their grandparents about things they remembered from the night their mother vanished.
“They were beginning to verbalize more,” said attorney Steve Downing, whose clients had custody of the children. “The oldest boy talked about that they went camping and that mommy was in the trunk. Mom and dad got out of the car and mom disappeared.”