Instead of holding a vigil, the family and friends of Susan Cox Powell gathered tonight to help others while marking the anniversary of the 28-year-old mother of two’s disappearance.
About 35 people met up inside an abandoned car dealership in Puyallup to wrap presents for the Washington State Santa Cops, a nonprofit that delivers toys and food to needy families, in Cox Powell’s honor.
“We decided it’s a good distraction to go and help someone,” said the woman’s father, Charles Cox. “Susan liked helping people and loved to do this kind of stuff so we carried on.”
Cox Powell was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, when she didn’t show up for work in Utah.
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Her husband, Josh Powell, said he saw her a day earlier, when he left to go camping with the couple’s boys, ages 2 and 4. He has been the only person identified as a “person of interest” by police but has not been charged with any crime.
Josh Powell since has returned to Puyallup, where the couple met. They moved to Utah six years ago.
Police in West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake City, say they’re still following tips and treating Cox Powell’s disappearance as a missing-person case. Police said more than 8,000 hours have been put into the investigation, and they have handled hundreds of phone calls from the public.
Shelby Gifford, the family’s spokeswoman, said foregoing a vigil for a service-minded project helped Cox Powell’s loved ones put a positive spin on their heartbreak.
Tonight’s turnout enabled them to collect more than 1,000 toys.
Volunteers spent two hours sorting canned foods and carefully wrapping Christmas presents that will be distributed to 150-200 families later this month.
Nathan Johnson, who attends the same church as the Cox family, said he recently was released from prison and wanted to participate in the event to show he can be a productive person.
“I decided to do something good and positive for society. I really feel for (the Coxes),” Johnson said. “For so long I’ve been selfish – it feels good to help other people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.Stacia Glenn: firstname.lastname@example.org