As late as last week, Josh Powell was fighting for custody of his two boys and planning a future with them.
"Having demonstrated my fitness as a parent, it is time for my sons to come home,” Powell wrote in a six-page affidavit filed in Pierce County Superior Court on Wednesday in connection with the custody case involving Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.
Powell even seemed willing to make peace with his in-laws, with whom he’s feuded openly since his wife, Susan Cox Powell, disappeared in Utah two years ago.
Charles and Judy Cox were caring for the boys under a court order after state officials took custody of the children when Powell’s father, Steve, was arrested last year on suspicion of voyeurism and possessing child pornography. Josh Powell and his sons were living with Steve Powell at the time.
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"For the sake of my sons, we can all do better,” Josh Powell wrote in the affidavit. “I come back to my partnership for protecting my children, which I hope to include a broad network of individuals including the Cox family. It is a two-way street, and I intend to do my part.”
For all its talk of reunification and reconciliation, the affidavit also hinted that Powell was under significant strain. He’s been named a “person of interest” in his wife’s disappearance and has been the subject of police and media scrutiny for more than two years.
“I have recently heard rumblings that some people are dipping down to the bottom of the barrel in a desperate effort to find and manufacture fault with me due to their attitudes,” Powell wrote. "A lesser person would fall under the intense scrutiny I am facing, but apparently my inherent resilience as a person makes it increasingly difficult for them to pursue their agendas.
"I am standing tall for my sons, but it deeply hurts to face such ridicule and abuse.”
It appears Powell’s strain boiled over Sunday into the unthinkable.
Authorities said the 36-year-old man torched his Graham-area house with his sons and him inside, killing all three.
Why Powell chose to end his life and take his boys with him remained a mystery late Sunday. He sent out some emails before the act, authorities said, but the contents of most of them were not publicly revealed.
His lawyer, Jeffrey Bassett, told The Associated Press he received an email from his client just after noon that said, “I’m sorry. Good-bye.”
Efforts to reach Powell’s relatives were unsuccessful.
Things recently had been looking up for Powell, at least on the custody front.
State officials told Judge Kathryn Nelson during Wednesday’s hearing that Powell had been abiding by the conditions necessary to regain custody of his sons, including moving out of his father’s house.
He went to court hoping for an order reuniting him with Charlie and Braden.
"If it were not for Christmas break and other court delays, I should have brought my sons home by now," Powell wrote in his affidavit.
But Nelson said not yet.
On the recommendation of a mental health expert who’d examined Powell, the judge ordered him to undergo a psycho-sexual examination first. Utah police investigating Susan Cox Powell’s disappearance recently informed the expert that they’d seized images of a questionable nature on Powell’s computer.
What exactly the images depict was not mentioned in court, but it was clear they were sexual in nature.
Bassett told The Associated Press on Sunday that his client was disappointed with Nelson’s decision but not overly so.
The judge kept intact her order allowing Powell twice-weekly visitations with his sons. Sunday was a regular visitation day for father and sons.
Powell also complained in the affidavit about constantly being in the spotlight when it came to his missing wife, who’s not been seen or heard from since December 2009. Authorities have called him “a person of interest,” but he was never charged with a crime.
He had said he went on a late-night camping trip with their sons and returned to find his wife gone.
"The public decides what to make you, and you have no way to combat the lies in any real sense,” Powell wrote in the affidavit. "Whether for good or for bad, almost every detail is twisted just enough to fit the sensational message.
"I have been continually victimized by the one-side public discussion, but I can see that other people in the situation have occasionally fallen victim to the media as well."
Powell wrote that he has tried hard to stay above the fray, mostly on account of his sons.
“If anyone wants to be honest with themselves and the situation, the real story is not that anyone is a bad person, including me,” he wrote.
“The story is one of overcoming and rising above what many people think are insurmountable challenges.
“I know my own heart is free of guilt regardless of what people claim.”
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644