GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) - Josh Powell's note was simple and short, a farewell to the world after two years of being scrutinized in the media, hammered by police and questioned by judges, prosecutors and social workers, living his life under a microscope since the day his wife vanished.
"I'm sorry, goodbye," Powell wrote in an email to his attorney just minutes before authorities say he blew up his home, killing himself and his two young sons days after he was denied custody and ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
The fire Sunday 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 located at 8119 189th Street Court East Sunday, for what was to be one of Powell's two, three-hour supervised visits a week. 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.
"He pushed her out. He blocked her out," Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said. "The whole thing was planned."
The social worker called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas, and moments later the home erupted in flames. The social worker, though traumatized, was unharmed in the explosion.
Neighbors had reported hearing an explosion, but Troyer said the home was destroyed by a fast-moving fire that blew out several windows and was aided by some sort of accelerant. No neighbors reported injuries, and gathered outside the house after the explosion, filming the fire.
Troyer said emails Powell sent just prior to the explosion that authorities were made aware of seemed to confirm that Powell planned the deadly blast. Troyer didn't elaborate on the content of the emails, but said "there is no doubt he did this on purpose" and that "...for it to end this way makes everybody very, very sick."
"We were all looking for a different ending to this, a resolution for this. … It hurts everybody," Troyer said.
Authorities said they found three bodies in the home late Sunday afternoon as fire crews and police continued to search the rubble. Troyer said it appeared some sort of accelerant was used to make the house burn faster. Troyer said a medical examiner had yet to identify the exact cause of death.
Jeffrey Bassett, who represented Powell in the custody case, said he received the three-word email from his client just minutes before Powell and the two boys died.
The email arrived at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, about 10 minutes before the explosion, but he didn't see it until 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 like others who knew Powell, he didn't see this coming.
- Dec. 6 - The last time anyone saw Susan Powell
- Dec. 7 - The day Susan Powell was reported missing
- Dec. 9 - Police call disappearance of Susan Powell "suspicious"
- Dec. 12 - Family of missing woman's husband speaks
- Dec. 16 - Josh Powell named person of interest
- Dec. 17 - 2nd search warrant served at Powell home
- Dec. 20 - Josh Powell attends Wash. vigil
- Jan. 3 - Friends of missing Utah mom launch Web media blitz
- Jan. 4 - Social media blitz kick off
- Jan. 9 - Josh Powell packs up West Valley City house
- Jan. 27 - Family, friends put up ribbon display at Powell WVC home
- Feb. 5 - Friends plan ‘Week of Service' in honor of Susan Powell
- Feb. 15 - Family accuses missing woman's husband of abuse
- March 1 - Susan Powell's family, former copquestion new website
- March 6 - Vigils mark 3-month anniversary of Susan Powell's disappearance
- Dec. 6 - Josh Powell and his father, Steve, assert that Susan Powell ran away with missing Utah man Steven Koecher, who disappeared in Nevada in December 2009.
- Aug. 19 - Abandoned mine shafts searched in mountains outside of Ely NV
- Aug. 25 - West Valley Police serve warrant to Steve and Josh Powell:
- Sept. - Steven Powell faces charges of voyeurism and possessing child porn Sept. 14 - West Valley Police find human remains in search Sept. 23 - Susan's parents file for custody of Powell sons
- Sept. 27 - Cox family gains temporary custody
- Dec. 9 - Josh appears on Dateline
- Feb 1. - Judge denies Josh Powell custody
- Feb. 5 - Josh allegedly sends message to lawyer saying goodbye, home explodes shortly after
One who knew him, who has been vocal from the beginning, was Kiirsi Hellewell, a good friend of Susan's from their time in the West Valley City neighborhood together.
"I did not think he would have the nerve to kill his two little boys," she said.
"Josh has always been about control. To him, the boys were his possessions. To him it was all about getting control back," she said.
Susan Powell, a pretty 28-year-old mother of two, was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, after she failed to show up for her stockbroker job in Utah. Only a month after the disappearance of his wife, Powell packed his things and had moved to Washington state and has made it his home ever since.
Authorities in the couple's hometown of West Valley City, about 10 miles outside Salt Lake City, quickly turned their attention to Josh Powell. Police have identified him as a "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.
On Sunday, the lawyer for Susan Powell's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, told the AP 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."
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," Steve 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."
Josh has always been about control. To him, the boys were his possessions. To him it was all about getting control back.
–- Kiirsi Hellewell
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 in light of the explicit material found on computers inside Steven Powell's home that led to his arrest.
Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services, said the social worker who was with the children Sunday was not a Child Protective Services employee but a contract worker with a private agency that supervises visits for the state.
"The visit supervisor for this particular agency had taken the children to the home. When she does that, she sits through the visit and might take notes on her observations," Hill said. "She pulled up in the car, and the kids ran out ahead of her. He closed the door and locked it. She wasn't able to get in, and that's when she smelled gas."
Downing called it "the most horrifying thing you can imagine happening ...The Coxes are absolutely devastated. They were always very fearful of him doing something like this, and he did it."
Bassett said he represented Powell free of charge because "every parent deserves the right to an attorney." Powell called or emailed him at least once a day, and often more than that, and in their conversations "he never once admitted doing anything regarding Susan. In fact, he denied it."
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.
"This tragedy that's happened here, this evil thing that's happened, we'll just have to shake it out (and) kind of see where we're out," said West Valley Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen. "But we're going to be cautious so we don't interfere in Washington."
Officer Powell added that they're just barely working through things as a department in West Valley, and Nielsen said that this event will definitely change the way they investigate the case.
Kirk Graves, 39, of West Jordan, Utah, whose wife is Josh Powell's sister-in-law, 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."
Graves said no one in the family had spoken with Josh Powell since before last week's custody hearing. Jennifer, Josh Powell's sister, had no comment Sunday.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)