A look at the divorce file of Josh Powell's parents shows extreme discord between the parents over everything from religion to pornography. And both parents had concerns about Josh.
Long before Josh Powell killed himself and his sons, the pages of his parents’ divorce file portrayed him as a seriously troubled teen who attempted suicide, killed pet gerbils, once threatened his mother with a butcher knife and early on adopted his father’s allegedly disparaging view of women.
As an adult, Powell appears to have repeated in his own marriage to Susan Cox Powell some of the same emotionally abusive behavior he witnessed growing up, according to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune.
With the Tribune’s report and others Friday, the story of the Powell family continued to develop.
The dispatcher who Sunday took a much-criticized 911 call from a caseworker trying to alert authorities to danger at Josh Powell’s house before he killed himself and his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, told “Dateline NBC” that the case has been “a nightmare.”
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David Lovrak said in an interview that aired Friday night that he regretted how the call went down and that he didn’t realize who the caseworker was talking about when she mentioned Powell by name.
Powell was a person of interest in Susan’s 2009 Utah disappearance, and he had lost custody of his two sons.
And in Pierce County, police who searched a storage unit rented by Josh Powell found a stained comforter that tested positive for blood in initial exams, according to documents filed in court Friday.
Attempt at healing
In the years following his parents’ 1994 divorce, Josh repaired a frayed relationship with his mother, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Last year, she defended him as a loving, caring father as he sought to regain custody of his sons from the state.
Court files show the divorce of Steve and Terrica Powell involved not only serious conflicts over parenting and religion, but allegations of mental unfitness, pornography, polygamy and even witchcraft, The Tribune reported.
A tug of war ensued over the children, who at the time ranged in age from 18 to 7. Josh, the second-oldest child, was 16.
In 1992 court filings, Steve claimed his wife, who studied herbs and natural healing, had mixed a New Age mysticism with Mormon beliefs in a way that amounted to practicing “witch craft and devil worship.”
Terrica responded that Steve’s interest in pornography, which he shared with their sons, had corrupted him, the newspaper said, quoting court files.
Steve Powell was arrested last September on charges of voyeurism and child pornography based on images police found during a search of his Puyallup home, a home which he then shared with Josh and his grandsons. That’s when the state took custody of the boys and placed them with their maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox.
In the divorce case, Terrica told the court her husband’s parenting was offensive.
He subjected Josh in particular to overly harsh discipline, she said.
“For years, he pointedly attacked Josh very frequently, nearly every day for a time,” she wrote.
Steve acknowledged Josh was a challenge.
“At times I have no idea how to handle Josh,” he wrote. “He is now a little taller than I, and may, with his regular weightlifting, be a little stronger and bulkier than I. I cannot spank him. Spanking didn’t even help when he was younger.”
When he was 13 or 14, Josh tried to commit suicide by hanging himself, the newspaper said.
And once, when Terrica had tried to get Josh to do his dishes, he turned to her, a butcher knife in his hand, and in a menacing way told her, “Don’t push it, Mom.”
A 911 “nightmare”
On Sunday, when Josh Powell grabbed his sons, locked the door and proceeded to kill himself and the boys by setting his rented house afire, the caseworker who was supposed to supervise the visit, Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, called 911. The dispatcher, Lovrak, asks her seemingly unrelated questions and tells her deputies have to respond to “life threatening” situations first.
“Well, it was horrible. And this has been a nightmare,” Lovrak told “Dateline.” “And you see, part of the problem is that, like most people, I think — I was aware of Josh Powell’s story,” he said. “But I didn’t associate his name with the story.”
The dispatcher said that re-listening to the call is painful.
“It was a horrible situation that I didn’t recognize,” he said.
In Pierce County, detectives reported finding a gray-blue comforter with a bloodstain in Josh Powell’s storage locker.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said presumptive tests are conducted with a field kit and that a determination of blood won’t be confirmed until the item is examined in the lab. “Field tests are not infallible,” he said.
The comforter was the only item police kept.
Investigators also found toys and kids’ clothes in garbage bags, as well as framed pictures. Those items were given to Susan Powell’s family.
Seattle Times staff contributed to this story.