Carina has been typing on the internets before there was a www in front of everything. This is why she’s cranky and wants to know when you’ll get off her lawn. She resides in a hopelessly outdated home in the Mountain West with a mathematician and three children hell-bent on destruction. Her laundry is not done, but her Twitter is totally up to date. Carina does not have a Tumblr, because get serious.

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The Tragedy of Susan Cox Powell and Her Children

Susan Cox Powell - Find Susan

I remember the days after I first heard on the news that a woman named Susan Cox Powell had disappeared. She was the mother of two little boys, just like me, and lived a few towns away.

The boys, Charlie and Braden, were the same ages as my little boys. I heard her husband Josh Powell telling everyone that she’d walked away from her children. He’d taken the boys, who were then 4 and 2, in the middle of the night on a camping trip in December in a snow storm in the West Desert. Now, you may not be from Utah, but let me tell you, the West Desert is a DESERT; It is God-forsaken land. The idea that anyone would take preschoolers camping in a snow storm, to the freezing and isolated West Deseret, was beyond absurd, it was ludicrous. It’s like telling people you took your kids to the beach, on the Bering Sea, in December. Susan left her purse and disappeared, Josh claimed, against the word from Susan’s family and friends that she had been considering divorce.

You and I know, in our mother hearts, that those circumstances did not add up.

We would not voluntarily leave our purses, let alone our precious babies. There was no possible way that Susan left her babies voluntarily. Not Susan.

Since December of 2009, Josh Powell continued to avow his innocence, and Susan’s family continued to keep her memory alive. He took the children and moved to Washington State. The police here in Utah gathered evidence, questioned witnesses, and tried to assemble a case. The police in Washington tried to help. Unfortunately, real life isn’t usually like CSI and the movies: cases go cold, evidence is scarce, and the burden of proof is insurmountable in the face of dogged manipulation and deceit. Charlie and Braden had to live with their mother’s murderer.

Many more clues and evidence mounted in the next two years: Josh’s disgusting father, who lived with the children, was arrested and is now in jail on charges of voyeurism and child pornography. Custody was granted to Susan’s parents, the boy’s grandparents. Josh was allowed supervised visits with the children, and recently ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual examination to further determine custodial arrangements.

And then on Sunday, February 5th, Josh Powell shoved the Washington State social worker, who brought the boys and was there to supervise his visit, out of his home, barred the door, tried to murder his children, and intentionally set fire to the gasoline he’d put all over the house.


It is mind-boggling and unbearable. He killed his wife and then he killed her babies.

I’m a writer and I have struggled finding the words to put together. 

My heart is broken. The Cox family lost their daughter, and then her children, to the same horrible, evil creature.

Rage, fury, horror, tears, anger, frustration, revenge–and against whom? A dead man? There’s nowhere to put our emotional burden. People in two states and across the country are grieving. We can’t dig him up and put him on trial. We can’t kill him slowly. There’s nothing to be done except look at the impotence of our hands and the bleeding of our hearts.

Dear Susan,

I am so, so sorry. I am sorry your babies had to live with the man who murdered you. I am sorry they had to live without your hugs and love for so long. I am sorry that he killed himself before we could make him tell us where you are. The police are still working on your case. I never did and never will forget you. We will find you.


Dear Cox and Graves Families,

We are so unbelievably sad for this horrific loss. We send you our love. We send you our prayers.

Our hearts feel your hearts. Our hands reach for yours. We feel it with you.



I don’t know what else to say…


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Comments (13)

  1. Michal 02/07/2012 at 6:27 pm

    The villagers got their pitchforks and torches. It’s a known police tactic to put pressure on a suspect until they crack and it becomes easier for them to confess than to keep up their ruse. They succeeded, Josh cracked. Just not in the way that they were hoping.

  2. Julie {Angry Julie Monday} 02/07/2012 at 11:22 am

    Obviously since I don’t live in Utah, I did not know about the on-going investigation. But after seeing the latest events and looking at older news info, I am disgusted. As a mother, I am traumatized. As a first responder, I have a visual that I cannot get out of my head. I feel for everyone involved in this situation.

  3. whitneyingram 02/07/2012 at 9:33 am

    Well written Carina.

  4. Ellen G 02/07/2012 at 9:30 am

    My heart grieves for all of them, including the social worker who seemed to be helpless in all this. I cannot imagine what she is going through right now, knowing that her doing her job brought those angels to that monster.

  5. brooke 02/07/2012 at 9:20 am

    amen, amen, amen! even when you lack the words, you say it just right.

    i’m sick with sadness.

  6. LuckyRedHen 02/07/2012 at 9:18 am

    Well put, Carina.

    That those precious babies died by carbon monoxide poisoning means they laid there with hatchet injuries to their necks and head from the hands of their father ALIVE breathing in and out laying in fire. There are no words harsh enough to describe the kind of person who would do that to someone, let alone a father to his young children.

  7. Kalli 02/07/2012 at 8:41 am

    I can hardly get over te churning pit in my stomach and mind to try and make sense of it. I can’t make sense of it. It’s every evil horror put on display.

  8. Rachael Herrscher 02/07/2012 at 8:12 am

    All I keep thinking about when I see the news coverage is how we failed those little boys. Our entire system failed them.

    • Carina Wytiaz 02/07/2012 at 9:00 am

      See, and I don’t know that the system failed them, at all. There’s only so much we can do in the face of a determined person.

      Josh was never convicted or charged with anything, there was no reason why the children shouldn’t have been with him. Suspicion isn’t a reason to remove them. We can’t remove children because we all *think* something happened. The judge and the law did what they could. The system is (rightly) set up to protect innocent people. Their social worker did her job, she did what she was supposed to do.

      The only failure I see is that the visits should have been somewhere neutral–but he was determined to hurt himself and the children, do we really think he wouldn’t have taken out MORE innocent people to achieve his horrific goals? There’s only so much we can do in the face of a person who is determined to be an agent of evil and chaos.

      • whitneyingram 02/07/2012 at 10:02 am

        Yes, he was determined. It was only a matter of time. If he can kill his wife and is willing to kill his boys, I am sure any person wouldn’t be a problem for him.

      • Rachael Herrscher 02/07/2012 at 10:22 am

        For me the problem is, I think we’ve all been saying all along, dude – it’s obvious he did it. However, legally we had nothing. So I get that whole process and the rights that have to be protected. But the writing was on the wall — that’s what’s so frustrating. The kids were totally helpless in this entire thing

        • Becky 02/07/2012 at 1:36 pm

          In my heart I know God was with those little boys. I have to believe he kept them from suffering physical pain. They are with their mama in heaven which is better than their dad in hell. We are left to wonder how could he do such a horrible thing to children and WHY…..why didn’t the system protect the children, why does it take a horrible tragedy to open our eyes. God Bless.

    • Marie 02/07/2012 at 1:44 pm

      It’s impossible to know if it could have helped, but a woman who was a close friend of the creepy paternal grandfather told the West Valley City police just a few weeks after the disappearance that the grandfather Powell had openly admitted to being sexually obsessed with his daughter-in-law from the beginning and had a massive porn problem. The friend told the police in Utah about what she knew of him, and when she’d not heard back for several months she contacted them again, with additional information she’d gotten from the grandfather, who had visited her in an effort to get her to believe the story he and his son were telling. She sent the police copies of some documents left at her house by the grandfather and related his new confessions to her: that a police search of his house had overlooked his porn collection, including his cache of Susan relics–her journals and underwear. The West Valley police lost those documents she had sent them (!!!) and months later asked her to send them new copies. So could the police working on the case have kept this final tragedy from happening? Who knows? Quite possibly not. But could they have done a lot more to follow up on strong leads and not misplace evidence? Oh, yeah. And who knows if, with more trained eyes focused on the dark pit that was the grandfather’s household, if they might not have progressed more quickly in gathering sufficient evidence to make an arrest or at least get the children out of there and to their maternal grandparents more quickly? We know some of the horror of their final moments, but what must it have been like to live with two such evil men for almost two years?