GRAHAM, Wash. – In the wake of Sunday’s death of two boys in an explosion that police say was set by their father, who had been battling for custody of them, some are saying the system failed to keep the children safe.
Josh Powell and his sons, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, died Sunday at Josh’s rental home in Graham. Josh was a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, in Utah.
A contracted social worker brought the two boys for what was to be a supervised visit. Police say the boys rushed toward the home, leaving the social worker behind. By the time she got to the door, Powell had let his sons in, but locked her out.
The social worker called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas. Moments later, the home burst into flames, igniting an inferno that neighbors said rattled their houses.
Josh's father, Steven, was arrested at his Puyallup home last year, accused of secretly videotaping his Susan, other women, and young girls taking baths and sitting on the toilet in neighborhood homes.
That’s when the children were ordered to live with Susan's parents. Josh had been in a custody battle with Susan’s parents for several months. Last Wednesday, a judge denied Josh’s request to have the children returned to him.
Many are asking why the supervised visit was not held at a more secure location. The Department of Social and Health Services said it was following the orders of the court.
“We work with the courts and when a court orders a visitation and the location, we work with them to follow those orders,” said Sherry Hill, DSHS spokesperson.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said there was nothing the social worker could have done to prevent what happened.
“He was lying in wait. He had this pre-planned. He had everything ready to go and this was going to happen no matter who dropped those boys off," said Troyer.
“The social worker, this contracted worker, I believe also did everything that she possibly could,” said Hill. “This was a normal situation and the children had lived with Josh Powell for two years previous to them being removed from the home.”
On news websites, some commenters put the blame squarely on Powell, but others blamed a system they say failed the boys.
“Once again, our wonderful system failed to protect the children,” said one commenter on KING.com. “These boys should have NEVER been given supervised visitation to Josh IN HIS HOME!!!”
"If you want to blame someone, put the blame where it really goes. No amount of paperwork, court orders, or surveillance can stop someone bent on murder," said another.