Newly released 911 calls reveal what happened in the minutes leading up to and immediately after the fire that killed Josh Powell and his two young sons.
After Josh Powell locked himself in his home with his two young sons, the caseworker assigned to supervise the visitation pleaded for several minutes with a 911 dispatcher to send help, at one point saying, “I’m afraid for their lives,” newly disclosed 911 tapes reveal.
“I think I need help right away. He’s on a very short leash with DSHS … ,” the caseworker told the dispatcher, referring to the state Department of Social and Health Services, which had custody of the children.
“And this is the craziest thing. He looked right at me and closed the door.”
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In the minutes before Powell turned his Graham home into a fiery inferno, killing Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, and himself, the caseworker can be heard patiently trying to explain the situation and describing why Powell was considered a risk. At one point she told the dispatcher she smelled gasoline.
The 911 calls released by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday also include recordings of calls from people close to Powell who had recently received disturbing emails from him.
Others are from neighbors who saw the house erupt in flames.
“The house is totally engulfed in fire,” one neighbor said.
In one emotional call from Powell’s sister, Alina Powell, she told the dispatcher that she recently received “weird emails” from her brother.
Powell, before setting fire to the home, sent several emails to friends and acquaintances, saying goodbye and explaining what to do about his personal affairs, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
“I think my brother might be in trouble or something,” Alina Powell told the dispatcher, her voice breaking up. “He’s sending weird emails, saying goodbye.”
She told the dispatcher that “there’s been a lot of abuse against him.”
In one email from her brother, she said, he wrote that he could not live without his sons.
The dispatcher repeatedly asked Alina Powell for her brother’s address. But she said she didn’t know.
“He lived there a few months … maybe four or five months. … Since around October.”
She told the dispatcher “the way I could confirm the address is by driving over there, and I’m afraid to drive over there. … I’m afraid of seeing something.”
A man who said Powell worked for him called 911 to say he had received an email around 12:05 p.m. that simply said, “I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
Powell’s attorney, Jeff Bassett, called to report receiving a similar email, which he said, “gave me every indication that it’s [the fire] intentional.”
The first call was made by the caseworker just after she had driven Charlie and Braden to Powell’s home for the court-ordered visitation.
She said Powell locked the door behind the two boys and wouldn’t allow her inside.
She returned to her car, where she called her supervisor, then called 911.
She told the dispatcher she didn’t know what to do.
As she spoke to the dispatcher, she said she could hear one child crying in the background.
She then spent nearly seven minutes trying to explain supervised visits, and answering questions about the case; Powell’s address; how his name was spelled; what type of car she was driving; and giving Powell’s height, weight and hair color.
The caseworker asked that a deputy be sent to the Powell home immediately.
The dispatcher told her that deputies “have to respond to emergencies, life-threatening situations first.”
“This could be life-threatening,” the caseworker said.
“He was in court on Wednesday and he didn’t get his kids back and this is really … I begged him to let me in. … I’m afraid for their lives.”
A short time later the home erupts in flames, killing everyone inside.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983