Jennifer Graves told Cold‘s Dave Cawley that she learned what had happened — that Charlie and Braden Powell had been murdered on Feb. 5, 2012 — when her friend, Kiirsi Hellewell, called.
She could barely understand what she was saying. Kiirsi was practically in hysterics. Her voice was panicked; so overwhelmed with emotion that she struggled to get a full sentence out. Still, Jennifer could pick out a few key words. She was saying something about an explosion, that she was sure of – and something about Josh’s kids.
That was how she found out that, two states over, in Graham, Wash., her brother Josh Powell had done something unthinkable. She’d spent the last two years convinced that he was responsible for the disappearance of his wife, Susan. Now, with Kiirsi’s news, any last shadow of doubt was erased.
Josh Powell had killed himself and his two sons.
Chuck Cox visits the crime scene
There was only one person Jennifer could think of calling when she learned what was happening: the boys’ grandfather, Chuck Cox.
Chuck and his wife Judy lived in South Hill, not too far from Josh’s home. He’d spent most of the last two years fighting to get Josh’s children, Charlie and Braden, out of their fathers’ reach. Josh was the lead suspect in their mother Susan’s disappearance and presumed death, and Chuck and Judy wanted to keep the last pieces they had of their daughter safe.
They had suffered more than anyone; and yet, when word of what happened reached him, Chuck knew that he would be the one that everybody who loved Charlie and Braden would turn to. By the time Jennifer called, he was already on his way to the scene of the crime, determined to see it for himself.
“I know that other people are going to want to know: is it true or is it not? Somebody has to find out and actually look and see what’s going on,” Chuck said. “It was me. So I went and did what I needed to do.”
Jennifer was just one of many people who’d be calling Chuck, hoping he’d have some kind of answers. He was on his way, he promised her. He would figure out what was really going on and call her right back.
By the time he made it, there was little left in the charred remains of what had once been Josh’s home. Most of the walls and nearly everything inside had been completely destroyed.
It was true. It had really happened. Josh had killed his boys. And all Chuck could do about it now was call the people who needed to know and turn back home.
Jennifer Graves breaks down
Jennifer didn’t wait for Chuck to call her back. She couldn’t stand sitting in her husband’s office, the two of them just waiting for some kind of word. They called him first, then struggled to deal with the news.
“It was such a – such a weight,” Jennifer told Cold’s Dave Cawley, speaking slowly as she struggled to get out the words. “Such a horrible – a horrible thing.”
She says that she shut down, that her mind was incapable of comprehending that this had really happened.
“I just remember sinking through the floor, thinking: ‘I should tell someone. This is really bad. And I should tell people that this has happened.’”
She took her phone and stared at it, unable to remember how to make it work. In her shock, the part of her brain that could use a phone just wouldn’t move. And so for a moment, all she could do was sit and stare, too numb to act.
When she finally managed to move her fingers, she sent out a message that came from a place of anger and shock; one so blunt that, to this day, she still regrets sending.
“It was something to the effect of: ‘Josh has blown up his house with Charlie and Braden in it, and they’re all dead,’” Jennifer said. “Oh my goodness. If I had received that message? Oh! Oh, how horrible!”
One of Jennifer’s cousins would later tell her that, when she received the message, she was in church. In the middle of service, she’d stood up and just stared at her phone, unsure what else to do. Then, when it finally worked its way through her mind, she’d just left without a word of explanation.
“It was horrible,” Jennifer told Cawley. “It was horrible.”
There was only one thought, Jennifer says, that kept her going.
“I remember thinking – even through the pain, somewhere deep down inside – they’re okay. They’re okay because they’re now with their Mom and with Heavenly Father and Jesus,” Jennifer said.
“That was like a little glimmer of light through the whole thing that just kept me from completely collapsing.”
Cold: Episode 14
Jennifer, Chuck, and nearly a dozen other people who love and care for Charlie and Braden Powell shared their stories with Dave Cawley.
In Cold’s most difficult episode, they tell about the heartbreak they endured on that horrible day.
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