The events of this day (just like the day Susan was first reported missing, on December 7, 2009) will forever be burned into my mind.
I returned home from church at about 2:20pm (Mountain time) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Right after walking in the door, my phone rang. I saw that it was ABC-4, one of Salt Lake City’s local TV news stations.
I sighed as I thought, “What now?” I figured there must be some sort of news.
I had no idea just how devastating this news would be.
The person on the phone told me they were sorry to be the one to tell me this if I didn’t know, but they had just received reports of an explosion at Josh Powell’s house.
I was confused. “What do you mean? An actual explosion, or a verbal explosion?” I was thinking they were referring to some sort of yelling match. I also asked if it was at Steve Powell’s house, or Josh’s rental house.
They answered, “The rental house. An actual explosion. And it was during Josh’s visitation time—there are reports that the bodies of two children were found.”
Time seemed to stop. I screamed, “NO!!! NO, no, no!!” My family came running down the stairs and gathered around me. They thought I’d just received news of a car accident—I had a sister and her family who were driving across the country that day, to the West Coast.
The ABC-4 person was saying something, but I interrupted them and gasped out “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now.” I hung up and dialed Chuck Cox, with trembling fingers.
He answered right away. I was crying so hard I could hardly talk. I said, without preamble, “Is it true?? A news station just called me. Is it true??”
He said, “I don’t know. I’m on my way there right now. I’ll call you back as soon as I know.”
The next thing I had to do was make two of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make in my life. The first one was to Jennifer Graves, and the next one was to Debbie Caldwell.
Jennifer is Josh’s sister, and had plans to adopt Charlie and Braden. She already loved and knew them as her nephews, and thought of them as her future sons. She had been through two years of hell, along with the Coxes and myself and others who knew and loved Susan, and courageously stood up for Susan even when Josh, Steve, and their other siblings in Washington publicly “disowned” and defamed her.
Debbie was Charlie and Braden’s daycare provider before Susan disappeared (she’s also the one who raised the alarm that Susan, Josh, and the boys were missing when the boys didn’t show up to daycare on December 7, 2009). Susan’s boys spent 12 hours a day with her, three days each week, and thought of her as their Nana. She loved them like her own grandchildren. She worried about and grieved for them every day they were in Washington, and called CPS right after Josh moved them there in 2009 to beg CPS to do a child welfare check.
I did not want to be the one to tell either of these amazing women, who have become two of my closest friends. But I would rather they heard it from me than hear the news from a stranger (no offense to any media person reading this).
I won’t infringe on their privacy by reporting their reactions, but I’m sure you can imagine how they felt.
I was praying and crying and pacing nervously while waiting for Chuck to call me back. The phone rang a few minutes later. “It’s true,” he said heavily. “I’ve just been there and talked to the sheriff. Josh blew up the house and they’ve found three bodies inside.”
I was crying so hard I couldn’t talk. Chuck said, “I wish there was something I could say to help.” Even in my grief, I was amazed…these were his grandchildren, and he was trying to think of something he could say or do to comfort me.
He told me he was still in crisis mode and hadn’t had a chance to process. I felt the same.
Throughout the afternoon, friends and church members stopped by. We hugged and cried, not saying much. News trucks descended in force. The media were all very kind. I know this tragedy affected those reporters, too—many of them have covered this case in every detail since Susan disappeared.
That evening, I found out a few minutes before it started that some total strangers had planned a candlelight vigil in the parking lot of an elementary school. I packed up my family and we went there to meet a group of about 30 or so people, none of whom had any connection to Susan but who just wanted to show their love and support. They were so wonderful to do such a kind thing to help us grieve together over Charlie and Braden’s loss.
Some of the huge amounts of news coverage from that terrible day: