Charlie Powell wanted a duck pond. And bugs. Lots of bugs.
His grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, wanted a place for the rainwater to flow on their wooded South Hill property. They were in the midst of fulfilling the little boy’s wish – and their own – by building a storm water retention pond.
But on Monday, work on the pond-in-progress was at a standstill, and the grandparents were in turmoil as they mourned 7-year-old Charlie and his brother Braden, 5.
Both boys perished in a fire set by their father, Josh Powell, as the boys arrived for a Sunday afternoon visit. Josh Powell also died in the fire.
The Coxes had been the boys’ primary care-givers since September. Their father – whom the Coxes suspect killed their daughter Susan, mother of the boys, in 2009 – had been granted supervised visits with the children by a Pierce County judge.
Judy Cox said Charlie and Braden were playing with their cousin outside Sunday. After a brief tussle over a broken toy, she said, the boys hugged and went on playing. When it was time for the two brothers to leave, she said, they told her: “We don’t want to go see Daddy.”
Just one day after the boys died, the Coxes invited members of the media into their home as they shared memories of the children and tried to make sense of their son-in-law’s role in the boys’ deaths.
“The act he did was a cowardly act, a desperate act,” Chuck Cox said. “We had no idea (it was) going to end this way for those boys.”
He said Powell sometimes instructed the children, explaining the parts of a car or naming colors. But he believed their father didn’t really display affection to the boys. Instead, Chuck Cox asserted, Powell regarded his sons as possessions.
“They were his property,” Cox said. “He wanted them back.”
Upstairs in the Cox home, in a room addition so new there was still a smell of freshly laid carpet, Chuck Cox pointed to the beds where the boys had slept – Braden’s covered with a blanket depicting characters from the animated film “Cars,” while Charlie’s was covered with a Spiderman-themed blanket.
In a corner of the room, toys – Hot Wheels, a soccer ball, a stuffed Angry Bird – lay where the boys had left them Sunday. A plastic bin labeled “Charlie” contained the boy’s beloved art supplies. He had cut out paper snowflakes and a paper snowman and fixed them to the window of his new room.
Chuck Cox gazed out a window at the muddy pond, as it triggered memories: “We had raccoons, squirrels – it was a great place for them to play. We know they enjoyed it. That was what they spent Saturday doing.”
He pointed to a few pieces of clay and rocks that had been unearthed during the pond-building. The treasures were in the driveway, near the garage door.
“For Charlie, that was like gold to him,” Chuck Cox said.
He said his younger grandson, Braden, looked a lot like his daughter Susan. He said both boys liked to snuggle with him.
He said the boys visited their father on Sundays for a reason.
The Coxes are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.
Josh Powell initially met Susan Cox through a church function. They were married just months after her graduation from Rogers High School in 2000.
But Powell told the Coxes he didn’t want his boys attending church with their grandparents.
“That’s why the visitation was on Sunday,” Chuck Cox said. “It was during our church time.”
He said that when the children first came to live with them, they were “disconnected, like robots.”
“And if you talked about their mommy, they ran away,” he said.
The Coxes attributed the behavior to the trauma the children had undergone when their mother went missing in 2009. The grandparents said they knew Susan and Josh’s marriage was a troubled one, but they weren’t sure of the extent.
“I saw some things that disturbed me,” Judy Cox said. “But I had no idea it would be something criminal. I knew something was wrong, but what could I say?”
“We loved them,” Chuck Cox said of his grandsons. “We took care of them the best we could. We made sure they knew who their mother was.”
The Coxes said their faith tells them the boys and their mother are together in an afterlife.
“They’re safe,” Chuck Cox said. “We believe we will see her again after this life.”
On Monday, family members and friends stood outside the front door of the Coxes’ home, drinking in the sunshine.
On the door was a ribboned wreath, and two more decorative ribbons flanked the light fixtures on either side of the door.
Family members explained that the wreath and ribbons have hung on the Cox home for just about two years – since Susan disappeared without a trace in Utah.
The ribbons, now faded blue, were once purple.
Purple, the family said, was her favorite color.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635