Tears welled in Judy Cox’s eyes as she watched dozens of purple balloons float skyward Saturday, her missing daughter’s 29th birthday.
“You’re kind of a member of a group that you don’t want to belong to. My family doesn’t feel complete with her being gone,” said Cox, wearing a T-shirt imprinted with a picture of her daughter, Susan Cox Powell.
About 40 family members and friends participated in the balloon release to honor Susan Cox Powell, who has been missing since Dec. 7, and to remind “people to keep their eyes open,” as Shelby Gifford, the family’s spokeswoman, put it.
Cox was reported missing in West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake City, where she lived with her husband and their two boys. Her husband, Joshua Powell, told police he last saw his wife about 12:30 a.m. as he left with the couple’s young sons for a winter camping trip in sub-freezing temperatures.
Susan Cox Powell graduated from Rogers High School in Puyallup in 2000 and married her husband, whom she met at a church, nine months later. The couple moved to Utah, and Joshua Powell returned with his children to live with his father in Puyallup after his wife’s disappearance.
West Valley City police have said Powell is the only person of interest in the case. There have been no arrests.
Joshua Powell did not attend Saturday’s event at the home of his wife’s parents. Efforts to reach him Saturday were unsuccessful. His father has said his son is “being vilified.”
Prior to the balloons’ release, Charles Cox, Susan Cox Powell’s father, said eight detectives remain on the case, and they have told him the investigation is progressing. He then led a prayer for his daughter and the people searching for her.
Family and friends organized a simultaneous balloon release in West Valley City. Friends and others who have followed the case through news media coverage or a Facebook page held similar events in other U.S. cities as well as Alberta, Canada; England; Paris; and Ireland, Gifford said.
Laurie Nielsen, a family friend, presented the missing woman’s parents with a scrapbook that she said would offer them “some uplifting, laughter and moments of reflection.” Debbie Caldwell, who provided child care to Susan Powell Cox’s children, started the scrapbook, and family and friends contributed to it, Nielsen said.
“Even though this is not a happy birthday for Susan, or for us, she would be thrilled to know we remembered,” Caldwell told The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday. “If she’s out there and can hear us, I want her to know we’re still looking. We still have hope, we still pray, and we still believe.”
Nielsen said she’s committed to helping out the family until their daughter is found.
“We love Susan,” she said. “We know she would do it for us.”
Leslie Landoe, who knew Susan Cox Powell from church, said the event was a fitting tribute to a person who made friends easily and always gave of herself.
“Definitely a bright light has been dimmed,” she said.
Attached to the end of each balloon was a business card that contained information about Susan Cox Powell and contact information to the West Valley City Police Department. As the balloons ascended en masse into the blue sky, the cards appeared to sparkle as sunlight hit their glossy surface.
“That shows that Susan’s watching,” said Anne Cox, Susan Cox Powell’s grandmother.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390