She could hear a boy crying inside the house. She rang the doorbell. She begged Josh Powell to let her in.
He ignored her.
The case worker who brought Charlie and Braden Powell to their father’s Graham-area house Sunday afternoon for a court-ordered supervised visit maintained her composure but sounded frantic as she called for help.
“This could be life-threatening,” she told 911 dispatchers shortly after noon. “He went to court Wednesday and didn’t get his kids back. I’m afraid for their lives.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before at these visitations so I’m really shocked. I can hear one of the kids crying.”
Her 911 calls - two stretching over about 10 minutes - were among seven recordings released Tuesday by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. The agency is investigating the house fire that killed Josh Powell and his sons, ages 5 and 7.
The News Tribune is not naming the case worker at her request.
The violent deaths have stirred feelings of shock and grief across the nation as people wonder how a father could harm his boys in such a horrifying way.
Detectives say Powell meticulously planned his son’s deaths. He donated their toys and books to Goodwill, withdrew $7,000 in cash and bought 10 gallons of gasoline to spread throughout the house he had rented months before.
When the boys arrived for their regular Sunday visit they dashed up the front walk and came in the house. Powell locked the door and used a hatchet on the boys before lighting the house on fire.
Minutes before the blaze started, the case worker told dispatchers she wanted to back her car out of the driveway because she could smell gasoline. She was standing a few houses away when the house erupted into flames.
When a dispatcher called the case worker back to ask for an exact address, she exclaimed, “He exploded the house. “I just dropped off the children and he wouldn’t let me in the door. He slammed the door in my face so I kept knocking. I thought it was a mistake.”
The blaze burned so hot and fast that firefighters who arrived three minutes later couldn’t get inside. All three bodies were found together in the middle of the house near a gas can.
The three died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Powell had appeared in court the previous Wednesday in hopes of regaining custody of Charlie and Braden. The boys had been living with their maternal grandparents since after the state took custody of the boys.
Adding to the strain of the bitter custody dispute is the fact that Powell has been named as a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, who vanished from their Utah home in 2009. He has not been arrested or charged but has been the subject of police and media scrutiny for more than two years.
Powell lost custody of his sons after his father, Steve, was arrested on suspicion of voyeurism and possessing child pornography. Josh Powell and his sons were living with Steve Powell at the time.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson said the plan was to eventually reunite Josh Powell and his sons. But first he needed to pass a psycho-sexual examination because Utah police investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance had informed a mental health expert that they’d seized images of a questionable nature on Josh Powell’s computer.
Minutes before killing his sons Josh Powell had sent some final emails to his family and others.
One went to his sister, Alina Powell.
In a 911 call released Tuesday, she tells the dispatcher through a torrent of tears that her brother has been “so upset” about being negatively portrayed in the media. She called requesting a welfare check after seeing the email he sent her Sunday morning.
“He sent several emails saying stuff about how to handle his property, how to cancel utilities, I don’t know,” Alina Powell tells the dispatcher. “They were desperate emails.”
She also mentions a voicemail in which her brother says “something about he can’t live without his sons ... and goodbye.”
She told the dispatcher the email came in at “11 after.”
In other 911 calls, Powell’s employer and attorney say they received emails at 12:05 p.m.
Jeff Bassett, the lawyer who represented Powell in the custody fight, didn’t notice his email until people began calling him about the explosion at Powell’s house.
“I have an email from my client,” Bassett says in the recording. “That email gives me every indication this was intentional.”
While on the phone, the dispatcher asked what it said so he scrolled through his inbox: “I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653