GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) - Days after a judge ruled against him in a child custody hearing, a father and his two young sons were killed Sunday when police said he appeared to intentionally blow up a house with all three inside - a tragic ending to a bizarre case that began more than two years ago when the man's wife went mysteriously missing in Utah.
A social worker brought the two boys to Josh Powell's home for what was to be a supervised visit, and Powell let his sons inside - but then blocked the social worker from entering, Graham Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Franz told The Associated Press.
The social worker called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas, and moments later the home exploded.
Sgt. Ed Troyer, Pierce County sheriff's spokesman, said emails that Powell sent authorities seemed to confirm that Powell planned the deadly blast. Troyer didn't elaborate on the contents of the emails.
Jeffrey Bassett, who represented Powell in the custody case, said he received a brief email from his client just minutes before Powell and the two boys died. It said, "I'm sorry, goodbye."
The email arrived at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, about 10 minutes before the explosion, but he didn't see it until two hours later, when others told him Josh and the boys had been killed. He said he knew Josh was upset after being ordered to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation recently, but he didn't see this coming.
Powell was under investigation in the disappearance of his 28-year-old wife Susan from their West Valley City, Utah, home in December 2009. He claimed he had taken the boys on a midnight excursion in freezing temperatures when she vanished.
The children, 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charles, had been living with Susan Powell's parents since Josh Powell's father, Steven, was arrested on child porn and voyeurism charges last fall. On Wednesday, a judge had denied an attempt by Josh Powell to regain custody, saying she wouldn't consider returning the two boys to their father until he underwent a psycho-sexual evaluation.
Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, said the social worker who was with the children was not a Child Protective Services employee but a contract worker with a private agency that supervises visits for the state.
"The visit supervisor for this particular agency had taken the children to the home. When she does that, she sits through the visit and might take notes on her observations," Hill said. "She pulled up in the car, and the kids ran out ahead of her. He closed the door and locked it. She wasn't able to get in, and that's when she smelled gas."