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."
"I'm sorry, goodbye," Powell wrote in an email to his attorney just minutes before authorities say he set fire to his home, killing himself and his two young sons days after he was denied custody and ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
"There were too many warning signs"
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.
'Mommy's in the mine'
On Monday, an attorney for Susan Powell's parents said their grandsons have said for years that "Mommy's in the mine."
The Powell boys have been making the statement to their grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, for years, the attorney said, adding the boys mentioned their mother may have been looking for crystals in the mine.
Another lawyer representing the Cox family 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."
The attorney said Charlie Powell drew a disturbing picture as a part of a school assignment several months ago. The drawing depicted the boy's father driving the van with Charlie and Braden sitting in the backseat, and their mother in the trunk.
Downing also said investigators with the West Valley City Police Department in Utah led the Cox family to believe Josh Powell would be arrested for the murder of his wife sometime this summer. No additional details were given.
The Powell saga
The Sunday blaze at Powell's home brought yet another twist in the very public scandal that began when Susan Powell vanished in 2009. The case had since spiraled into a salacious saga of finger-pointing and accusations of sex and lies - and now the unthinkable loss of two young lives caught in the crossfire.
A social worker brought the two boys to Josh Powell's home Sunday for what was to be a supervised visit. They rushed toward the home, leaving the social worker behind. By the time she got to the door, Powell had let his sons in but locked her out, Graham Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Franz told The Associated Press.
Steve Richards, assistant chief of Graham Fire and Rescue, said crews assessed the remnants of He said responders arrived on scene about three minutes after getting the call and found flames already through the roof.
"It was just devastation," he said.
Fire investigators slowly moved around the home Monday morning, measuring areas both inside and out. All the bodies were found Sunday in one room in the middle of the home, Troyer said.
A candle light vigil was held Sunday night for the boys outside the 7-year-old's school in Puyallup.
Josh Powell's father also was informed of the death in the jail in Tacoma where he's being held for investigation of voyeurism. He's on suicide watch, Troyer said.
The Washington Department of Social and Health Services said the social worker who brought the boys to Josh Powell's home for what was to be a supervised visit is "suffering from grave emotional trauma as a result of the horrific event." The department will conduct a formal child fatality review.
She did all she could, Troyer said.
The social worker called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas. Moments later, the home burst into flames, igniting an inferno that neighbors said rattled their houses.
Susan Powell, a 28-year-old mother of two, was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, after she failed to show up for her stockbroker job in Utah.
Authorities in the couple's hometown of West Valley City, about 10 miles outside Salt Lake City, quickly turned their attention to Josh Powell. He's been the only "person of interest" in the case, but had repeatedly denied any involvement in her disappearance.
"I would never even hurt her," a tearful, red-eyed Josh Powell told CBS' Early Show in August. "People who know me know that I could never hurt Susan."
About a month later, police spent 12 days in the remote central Utah desert looking for clues, and Josh Powell and his father, Steven, quickly disappeared from the limelight. The search area around Topaz Mountain, a popular spot for rock and gem hunters, was about 30 miles south of where Josh told police he went camping with his two children in the hours before his wife's disappearance - his steadfast alibi.
Police turned up no clues in their desert search, but a day before ending it, Steven Powell, 61, was arrested at his Washington state home and accused of secretly videotaping his daughter-in-law, other women, and young girls taking baths and sitting on the toilet in neighborhood homes.
The elder Powell is now jailed and facing child porn and voyeurism charges. He claimed in previous television interviews that he and Susan Powell were falling in love and even implied a sexual relationship had occurred.
"Susan was very sexual with me," Steven Powell said in one interview at the time. "We interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that."
Susan's father denied the allegations and said Steven Powell had been initiating unwanted sexual advances, and that his daughter had no interest in her father-in-law.
The children, 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charles, were ordered by a judge to then go live with Susan's parents as the parallel cases were investigated.
The custody matter got so heated that at one point a court commissioner in Washington state ordered Chuck Cox and Josh Powell to keep 500 feet apart.
Custody hearings continued, with the latest on Wednesday, during which Josh Powell pleaded with a judge to return his children to him.
"For over four months already, my interactions with my sons and many other aspects of my character have been investigated and documented by" social services, he wrote in an affidavit to the court. "I have proven myself as a fit and loving father who provides a stable home even in the face of great adversity. ... It is time for my sons to come home."
But the judge ruled against him, ordering the children to remain with Susan Powell's parents, at least until Josh Powell underwent a psycho-sexual evaluation, a process more often used as an assessment tool by courts to determine whether a defendant, largely in sex crimes cases, is likely to reoffend. In this case, the judge ordered it in light of the explicit material found on computers inside Steven Powell's home that led to his arrest.
Sgt. Mike Powell of the West Valley City Police Department in Utah 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," said Powell, who is not related to the family.
Powell did not return a telephone message later in the evening Sunday regarding the children's assertion that their mother had been in the trunk of the family's car on the night she disappeared.
In a statement Sunday night from West Valley City police, authorities said the investigation will remain ongoing as they work to find Susan Powell. It said Utah police were headed to Washington state to work with investigators there in the continuing probe.
Kirk Graves, 39, of West Jordan, Utah, whose wife is Josh Powell's sister, said they were stunned by the news.
"We never contemplated the idea he would do something like this. You just don't expect it from a father," he said. "His world was falling apart around him and he was going to lose his boys and get arrested for Susan's disappearance. He's a narcissist and he has no love for anyone but himself."