Applying Evil: Josh Powell & what he can teach us

Josh Powell.

He is the conversation.

The Powell Family

Here in Utah and I am sure many other places around the world  you cannot turn on the television, log on to Facebook, Twitter or even go to the grocery store without someone bringing up  his name and the horrific way he murdered his sons.

The disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell has been big Utah news since December 2009 and since the moment her story broke, I have continued checking for updates.  Susan disappeared one Wintery Night and her husband Josh has been the only person of interest in the case. I was talking to my friend Marianne today. She lives in Minneapolis. She knew about Josh Powell and his sons. She did not know Susan Cox Powell, Josh’s wife, was living here in Utah when she disappeared.  I was surprised. I thought everyone knew Susan’s story. And now I think people need to know. Maybe by knowing we can take a closer and healthier look at our own lived.

Here in Utah, many of us know who Susan Cox Powell is.  We may know her ourselves or we know someone who knows her or is related to her.  And because of the strong and large Mormon presence, Utah Mormon and Non-Mormon alike understand her world and because we do, I think we feel even closer to her story.

She is a mother of two sons and so am I. I am sure she shopped at Costco and Target, like the rest of us moms do. She worked. She gave birth. She bathed, fed, clothed and loved her sons. From all accounts she was a wonderful mother, daughter, sister and wife.   I have two sons of my own and maybe it is this simple connection which has made me  think about her sons over these past two years. I have wondered if those boys miss her. I have thought about what they have been told and I have wondered how they have been doing without their mom. Every time a new twist or turn was announced in her case, I wondered and wanted to know more. I think we all did. Most of us have been mad at Josh and disappointed that he was never arrested. Who takes their boys camping at 12:30 AM on a cold winter’s night? Who?

And this week, like all of us who have been touched by this story, and I know there are millions,  I have been shocked beyond words. Like you, I have been sick and have imagined myself reaching out and pulling those boys out of their horror. As a parent I cannot imagine what would make a parent think it is ok to kill his own children. Wether you believe in a God or not, I think we all wonder what kind of evil, what kind of darkness makes a person do what Josh Powell did? I have read message boards. I have pored over news articles. I have cried. I have prayed. I have thought about our world. I did not know if it was even ok for me to publicly weigh in until a few different things happened: Last night Kyle told me in great detail that they were talking about the man who murdered his kids at school and that the kids also assumed he was guilty of murdering his wife. I read the 911 transcripts; I read statements in support of Josh from his sister Alina Powell and his aunt and uncle, Maurice and Patti Leach, and I saw a life-changing quote by Josh Powell’s mother, Terri.

As much as I did not want to set Kyle straight about the man who murdered his wife, I had to. As his mom, I needed him to understand what it means to have  civil liberties. “Kyle because we live in the United States we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. No one ever proved that Josh Powell killed his wife. We assume he did, but it has not been proven.  He was never arrested. And sadly today,  there is no doubt that he murdered his children.”  I choked as I explained, “Something really cool about living in the United States is just that you are innocent until you are proven guilty.”

“I get that, Mom. I know that many innocent people have been found guilty, put to death and never were given a chance.”

“You got it, Kyle.”  I continued to explain that unfortunately sometimes because the powers that be are trying to follow this law and have enough evidence to convict, terrible people like Josh Powell will slip through the cracks.

I did not have the heart to tell Kyle about the debate, about all the well thought out and detailed opinions. Just today I read a blog. Jeanne Sager of Cafe Mom also tries to understand Josh Powell’s sister, Alina.  I like it when she says, “I tried to put myself in her shoes.”  Me too. I have tried. I try to understand Alina Powell’s finger pointing, blame and sorrow. Her life has been destroyed and I try to understand.  As much as she blames the media, I think she is in denial. She received emails before Josh killed himself. Like everyone else, she could not imagine he would do any harm yet she waited. She was afraid to go to his house and see. If we are all responsible, if we all sent Josh over the edge (which I do not believe we did), if  we have a stewardship for our words and judgements  (which I think we do), bottom line, so does Alina Powell. Josh was her brother.

“Im terrified to drive over there,” she (Alina Powell) said while crying. “I’m not afraid of him, he’d never hurt me. I’m afraid of seeing something I don’t want to see.”

With those 911 calls we can all see the breakdown. In our Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf  overblown and overstimulated world, when is it serious? If someone says, “I fear for their life,” do we wait or do we get help NOW? In the 911 tapes it is clear what happened. The police were not called now, but would that have made a difference?  Honestly, I am not sure how to answer this question. I have a friend who is an ER doctor. Over the holidays we were asking him over the holidays about people who come to the ER. “When people have chest pains,” we asked him, “how often is it serious?”  His answer, “You would be surprised at how often it is not. Less than one percent.”  Maybe that is why. We have been trained to cry for help and the police know that most of the time we don’t need it. I do not know.

Really with everything I have already said it was the quote from Josh Powell’s mom that pushed me over the edge.  Once I read her statements, I  knew had to say something. Why? Because it was her words that reminded me that we can all make a difference.

Powell Fire

I read the articles. What I understand is that because Josh had a plan, that ultimately it appears that last Sunday, February 5, 2012 at approximately 12:30 PM MST there was really nothing anyone could do.  And then I remembered what Josh’s mom said:

Josh Powell’s mom, Terrica Powell stated: “I think that much of Joshua’s difficulties through the years has stemmed from not knowing where the boundaries are — what are the limits of acceptable behavior.”

Yes, at that moment Josh Powell had all of the power.   Who doesn’t wish they could save Charlie and Braden from their  “big surprise“? As much as we debate, discuss, shout, plead and cry, we can never take that horrific moment back and it kills all of us.

We need to learn something. We need to fill this dark space. We must make this world better. I think  there is something we all can do as we move forward. Maybe we can try to understand and learn from what Josh’s mom is so acutely aware of.  Maybe in our own lives we can act. Josh had issues long before his wife disappeared. His troubles began years before he chose to murder his sons.  There were red flags, years of red flags. Josh demonstrated destructive behavior long before this nightmare happened. He  was not held accountable. It appears he did not receive help.  Josh did not understand boundaries. He was taught to disrespect women. His father was addicted to pornography. It appears so was he.   I am sure the publicized  insidious behaviors are just the beginning.

And before another child is murdered, a wife is beaten, a person is bullied, well maybe as parents, people and simply stewards of each other, we can be present for our kids, we can look out for one another, set boundaries, keep the boundaries, be kid and when we see someone who needs help, not be afraid to speak up. We can open our mouths.  We cannot let this happen again! Secrets, lies and lack of boundaries make us sick. We have the power to make our own lives better.

What do you think?



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8 thoughts on “Applying Evil: Josh Powell & what he can teach us

  1. For some reason, after I heard about this horrible tragedy, I couldn’t help but think about those poor little boys for days afterward. They literally haunted my dreams. Like you I was particularly struck by the description given of Josh and his life by his mother. My best friend was married to a man that displayed the same controlling, possessive and violent tendencies. Maybe that’s why I think about those boys because I still think about my friend and her two sons and although she went through a hellish divorce, she got away. While she was still married, she left an “emergency bag” at my place with clothes for them, their medicine and toys just in case she had to take them and leave with no warning. It’s heartbreaking when the one place that should bring you comfort and be a refuge for you (your home) is actually the most dangerous place for you to be. Rest in peace, Charlie and Braden.

  2. As I read this a thought kept replaying in my mind.

    Thank you Dave. I never need to worry about my sister or her sons. They are safe and loved and respected in your loving arms.

  3. “I think this was the act of somebody who had been so damaged by the lack of due process, so harassed and abused and lied about that he just reached a point of feeling like there was no… I don’t know,” [Alina Powell] said.

    As a mother who went through 5+ years of a vicious custody battle in which I was accused (and basically assumed guilty by judges and psychologists and investigators, while my lawyers fought tooth and nail to prove my innocence!) of burning my child, deliberate neglect, sexual abuse, and allowing other people to sexually abuse and mistreat my daughter, I can see how someone could lose hope in the legal system. But I’m a reasonably emotionally and mentally healthy woman, and as difficult as going through that was (and it was a grinding, heavy, demolishing load to carry for what seemed like an eternity at the time…), it never once entered my mind that I should just remove myself and my children from the equation by BLOWING UP MY GODDAMN HOUSE with us in it. The court system takes EONS to go through the process, and while I wish for the sake of my child that it had taken less time for her to be removed from the situation she was in – with her parent and grandparents putting her through hell just to make me look like a monster – I knew that if I just gave it time the truth would come to the surface and it did. You can only lie so much and for so long, and eventually someone is going to connect the dots and reveal the truth. (For those who don’t know my story, I gained sole custody of my daughter and the mean people kind of got their asses whipped in court.)

    I have no sympathy for Josh Powell, I have no doubt that he’s guilty guilty guilty and that what was happening was the noose of justice was getting tighter and tighter and he could no longer take the pressure. And because he was evil, because he was not mentally healthy, or seeking help for his mental illnesses, he thought it was okay to take his kids along with him. Alina Powell would do better to just admit that her brother was an unhealthy man, and that her role in her nephews’ deaths was unavoidable. It’s her guilt over doing nothing, but I don’t think that there’s anything anyone could have done! (I think that’s what you were saying, yeah?)

    I believe in God and Heaven, and I pray for that mother and her boys and hope that they are together again.

  4. Kim, Thank you for this comment. Thank you for getting it. I am so grateful there are people in this world who would let their friends keep an “emergency bag” ready at your house. I am glad she had you and I am glad she got out. There is always an out. It is so devastating when people think there is not. More people need to be like you! Seriously! I am grateful you speak up and are not afraid!

  5. Dave says thank you, Brenda. Then he laughs, taps his fingers together, makes an evil grimace and says, “Now for phase to of my plan.”

    Seriously, I am grateful Dave has my back. Even when he is being a boob, he has my back and I love him for it!

  6. Michelle, AMEN! I am so so proud of you! Have you thought about writing a book? Seriously! I watched you go through this and I felt proud watching you all along the way. You were patient. You followed the law. You were smart. You were brave. And you prevailed! I am so grateful you did. I know it was anything but easy. I know it was a very long, long road. I know your good named was trashed. Yet, you stayed focused, jumped through a million hoops and the truth did come out. Yay!

    I LOVE what you say and completely 100 hundred-million-percent agree, “You can only lie so much and for so long, and eventually someone is going to connect the dots and reveal the truth.”

    I pray those boys are with their mom again. I pray that those who feel trapped can be brave. There is an out. You know it. I know it. There is always an out. Sometimes the out is really hard to see. Often for those who feel trapped, it is. However, it is never so hard that you have to take innocent children with you. I think Josh’s sister Alina, is in denial. After I wrote my post I learned she lives ONLY 1 MILE from where Josh Powell was renting his house; only 1 MILE from where Josh murdered his sons! She could probably see the plume of smoke from her house. Seriously. She sat back and did nothing. Yes, she eventually (after the kids were already there) called 911 and then told them she was too afraid. I am sure she is in denial. She was paralyzed and did nothing. After receiving the first email, she could have walked to Josh’s house before his kids arrived and at least tried to talk to him. She waited and now she is dealing with the fact that she did. What a tragedy. May it be a lesson to all of us: SPEAK UP! Even when it is not the popular or most comfortable thing to do, be brave and speak up! I, myself, know how hard it is. You can lose friends and family when you speak up. Even if you do, it does not mean you were wrong to open your mouth. I find you usually lose people because you were right!

    Michelle, it is an honor knowing you and your story! Thank you Mama for being brave!

  7. Thanks, Beth. It is still very close to me, even though the 2 year anniversary is coming up in a week or so…it still feels very new and raw. I am still grateful that I had friends and family and excellent lawyers who stood by me and supported me, even friends like you that I’ve never seen in person. It is very true, lies will always be found out and Josh Powell knew his lies were coming to the surface. His sister, while I feel badly that she has to live with the guilt of not doing anything, I think she knew the lies and knew her part in pretending they weren’t lies. That’s why she’s tap-dancing now.

  8. Michelle, You just made me cry — in a very good way. Yes, I am grateful for you, my faraway friend. In fact I was watching the most awesome and uplifting documentary the other day, “Searching for Sugar Man.” You must see it! At one point a man being interviewed said, “Home is acceptance.” And Michelle, you have always been home. When we do meet in person I have a feeling we will ease right in.

    I agree about Josh Powell’s sister. The word complicit comes to mind. Of course she knew. She just did not expect it to get that bad. Sadly, it already was THAT BAD!

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