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Eight minutes to dispatch deputies to Powell house

Josh Powell

The agency in charge of the Pierce County 911 center said Wednesday it is investigating the dispatcher's handling of the call in which a visitation supervisor was seeking help before Josh Powell killed his two boys and himself in his house.

Logs show that it took eight minutes for the 911 dispatcher to send a police car, and it took another 13 minutes for the police car to get to the scene. The Powell house was engulfed in flames by then.

"At this point, we're doing a full investigation," said Tom Orr, director of the Law Enforcement Support Agency, which operates the 911 call center. "Seconds count in what we do. Lives depend on that. We get that, and we're all about trying to be the best at what we do."

The state-contracted visitation supervisor spent several minutes trying to convice the dispatcher to send a deputy to Powell's home in Graham, where he had locked himself in the house with his two sons and refused entry to the supervisor.

The dispatcher told the visitation supervisor that "life-threatening situations come first."

"This could be life-threatening," she said in the 911 tape from last Sunday. "He was in court on Wednesday and he didn't get his kids back and this is, really, I`m afraid for their lives."

Before deputies were dispatched, Powell had ignited gasoline cans inside the house.

"We try to get it right every single time. With humans here, sometimes there are mistakes made. I can`t tell you whether that was the case here until the investigation is complete," said Orr.

He added that despite the 911 calls in which the dispatcher questioned the visitation supervisor, police and firefighter response times to the house were quick.

"I'm not sure any of us could have stopped Josh from the evil that he intended, but what we can do is get better, whether that was something that should have been done in this call or some future call, that's going to be our goal," Orr said.

The 911 tapes were released Tuesday.

The tapes came from the state-contracted visitation supervisor who had just taken the two boys to Powell's house for a court-sanctioned visit. Calls were also made by Powell's sister, his employer and his lawyer who had received emails from Powell saying, "I'm sorry, goodbye."

The visitation supervisor who had dropped off the children at Powell's house for a visit called 911 to say she heard one of the boys crying inside the home and that she smelled gasoline.

Later, in the most chilling of the tapes, the visitation supervisor calls 911 and the dispatcher asks if she is calling about the house fire.

"Yes -- he exploded the house."

Asked if anyone was in the house, the she says, "Yes. There was a man and his children, I just dropped off the children and he wouldn't let me in the door."

"People are saying there is not someone here, but I was just there and there is someone -- there's two little boys in the house. They are 5 and 7, there's an adult man, he has supervised visitation and he blew up the house and the kids," she said.

"The kids and the husb... and the father were in the house?," the dispatcher asked.

"Yes. Yes. He slammed the door in my face, so I kept knocking, I thought it was a mistake, I kept knocking and then I called 911."

The dispatcher's handling of the 911 call has come under scrutiny.

Police said Powell, who had been denied custody of his children, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, Feb. 1, struck his sons with an ax inside the home and then apparently used gasoline to set the house on fire. All three died in the blaze.

Josh Powell's sister also called 911. She told them she thought her brother was in trouble.

When she was asked why she thought he was in trouble, she said, "I don't know, he's sending weird emails. He's saying goodbye and stuff.

"He said something about how he can't live without his sons and he's hurt by all of this and something. Then goodbye," she said.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department said a deputy responded within seven minutes after the first 911 call, but when the officer arrived, it was too late.

"When our deputy got there, the house was fully engulfed in flames," spokesman Ed Troyer said. 

Powell had also been a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, who went missing in 2009.  

A public funeral for Charlie and Braden Powell will be held at the Life Center Church in Tacoma at 11 a.m. Saturday. The church is located at 1717 South Union Ave.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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