For the past two years, all over the country, and in Puyallup, Wash. no less, the news has been captivated by the tragic story of one family — the Powell’s. Though you might already be familiar with the case: Two years ago, Susan Cox Powell went missing on the night her husband took their two children, Charlie and Braden, camping at 12:30 am. Josh Powell has since been a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance and possible murder.
Two years ago after accusations began, Josh moved his boys up to Puyallup where Susan grew up and his father lives, who has recently been arrested on voyeurism and child pornography charges. He lost custody of his children, after a year-long battle with Susan’s parents, last week. As well, the judge ordered Josh to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation — one that could pin him for good in the case of Susan’s disappearance.
On Super Bowl Sunday, a social worker arrived at Josh’s house on the outskirts of Puyallup for a supervised visit between Josh and Charlie and Braden. But when she arrived, Josh locked her out of the house. Less than 25 minutes later, the house exploded into flames.
I remember the smoke because I went running on Sunday after taking my nephew Ryder to the park at the top of my parent’s hill near Carson Elementary School. I figured the smoke was from a building but didn’t really think twice about is as the trailer park nearby often starts bon fires of sorts that cause the same kind of smoke. A half hour later my sister told us it was Josh Powell’s house — she heard from a friend who is a Pierce County Sheriff.
Josh, Charlie and Braden Powell were declared dead at the scene — Josh of the smoke and fumes of the fire, Charlie and Braden either of that or of a hatchet that was found to have hit the boys on their heads several times just before the fire was started by their father.
The last week has been a blur of news about developments in the Powell family case. One thing is known: Josh Powell maliciously planned to kill himself and his sons in a fire.
Today is the funeral service of Charlie and Braden Powell.
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I first got this text message from my dad who rode to the service in Tacoma.
Mom and I turned on the news.
A reporter at the front of the church talked about the many people coming into the building to celebrate Charlie and Braden’s lives. Then he talked about the large number of motorcycle riders who formed a sort of block line to keep cameras and news from getting too close to the service. The bikers came to show their support, and to protect Charlie and Braden’s funeral service from being exploited by cameras and from the nonsensical protestors who were expected to show. Those Harley riders… they’ve got mean moustaches but man do they have big hearts.
My dad is one of those Harley riders there. I was proud to know he was there for our family.
Pastor Dean Curry of Life Center Church starts talking. He mentions the tragic events that have led to this day. He reads from Matthew 19 and talks about celebrating Charlie and Braden as innocent lives.
“None of us know how many moments we are going to get. We want to be thankful for the moments we have…”
Pastor Tim Atkins of Faith Bible Church, where Charlie and Braden’s grandparents attend, shares a word before he prays for the opening of the service. He talks about how Charlie and Braden want to hold hands while they pray because that’s what they do at Pastor Tim’s house.
I cry again as the those who are gathered at the church hold hands while they join in Pastor Tim’s prayer.
“We have great need and you have great supply…”
Pastor Tim prays for trust and comfort. I resonate with his prayer.
He asks for joy and support. I ask, too.
A children’s choir sings “Amazing Grace.”
“T’was that grace taught my heart to fear and grace thy fears relieved. How precious that grace appear the hour I first believed…”
I’ve always loved that song. It’s words seem a perfect fit for so many circumstances. Possibly more true than ever for this circumstance.
“My chains are gone, I’ve been sent free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy rains. Unending love. Amazing grace.”
The news camera pans over the auditorium. It’s filled with friends and family and strangers — some with their eyes closed in prayer or silence, some with their head in their hands, some singing along.
The song finishes and a slideshow of the boys takes over. Braden’s face is precious. Charlie’s smile melts your heart.
I’ve never heard their laughter, but I bet it was just as sweet.
There’s a picture of the boys with their grandparents outside their home in Graham. The boys have purple balloons they are just about to let go of in memory of their mother.
Yesterday, Colin and I visited a friend’s kindergarten class at Carson Elementary where Charlie was a first-grader. It was “purple day” in honor of Charlie and Braden. Purple was Susan’s favorite color, I was told. Colin and I tied little purple bracelets around the small wrists in the class, a sign of their support for the family’s loss. Purple bows also tie every tree down our parkway, in both directions from the school until the main road.
Charlie’s kindergarten teacher (from last year) shares memories of Charlie as a student. Memorable lessons, clever remarks, silly expressions and young talents were talked about.
He sounds beautifully sweet.
“We will miss him, but he will not be forgotten.”
Next, two representatives from the South Hill YMCA talk about Braden. A woman mentions Braden’s favorite thing was to tell the staff at the YMCA, “Chase me. Get me.”
It reminds me of what Ryder is always saying to me at the park, “Aunt Gingzee, get me!”
“Braden’s spirit lives on in the hearts of those who love him.”
A family friend reads a quote — “Where can I turn for peace? …Where can I turn?…Who can understand?…Gentle the peace and hand….of Jesus Christ.” He reads a CS Lewis quote next that was beautifully stated. The family friend talks about the still, small voice of Jesus who directs us in times of loss and lost-ness.
Mr. and Mrs. Cox, Susan’s parents, take to the podium. Mr. Cox’s voice is slow, I can only imagine, with pain and loss. He says just a few short words.
I can’t imagine what they must be feeling — the hell they’ve endured for two years now, and likely for the rest of their lives without their daughter and now their grandsons.
The service concludes and family members exit first.
And just like that, the news channel moves to it’s next subject. A sad reality.
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*I published this post because Charlie and Braden’s story has absolutely touched me in ways I can’t explain, except with tears and sadness. I have no personal gain from journaling these feelings except to share with you my heart’s feelings for Charlie and Braden.