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Father and sons dead in apparent murder-suicide

  • Josh Powell, two sons die in house fire called murder-suicide
  • Father was 'person of interest' in wife's disappearance

Police in Pierce County, Washington, say a house fire that killed two children and their father, Josh Powell -- a suspect in the disappearance of his wife -- was intentional, according to news reports.

Along with their father, the boys, 7-year-old Charles and 5-year-old Braden, died Sunday afternoon in a mid-day blast that shook the neighborhood in Puyallup.

"Let's not refer to this please in public as a tragedy,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said, according to HLN affiliate KSTU. “This was not a tragedy. This was a horrible murder of two little kids. Let's not dress it up, let's not sanitize it. Let's call it what it is, which is something deeply wrong, which is not a tragedy, which is something evil."

Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said the scene was a murder-suicide. "This was something that was done deliberately and intentionally, and the plan was carried out very quickly."

Powell reportedly left a three-word email that read “I’m sorry. Goodbye." to his attorney. He also sent similar emails to a few relatives, according to HLN affiliate KOMO.

The day began quietly on a cul-de-sac. It was Super Bowl Sunday, a time for family and fun. Powell eagerly awaited the arrival of a social worker with his two sons. But trouble was in the air: Just last week Powell had been denied custody. The boys were staying with his wife’s parents since Powell’s own father, who had custody for a period of time, had been arrested on lewd charges.

Finally the social worker emerged. Quickly ushering the boys inside the home, Powell reportedly pushed the social worker back and locked the door, according to KUTV.

The social worker reportedly smelled something funny, something like gas. The social worker began "pounding the doors, trying to get in," Gary Franz, a deputy chief with Graham Fire and Rescue, told HLN.

Neighbor Rodney Kaio said "I'm still in shock and numb. I cannot understand why he would take his two little boys with him,” according to HLN affiliate KING.

Neighbors reported hearing something like a sonic boom then ashes whirling in the sky. The explosion ripped the home into pieces.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire released a statement Sunday, saying that, "I am deeply saddened by reports that two young children, Charles and Braden Powell, lost their life today in a terrible tragedy. My heart is heavy with their loss and my thoughts go out to the children’s family, friends, and schoolmates. This is a very sad day,” KOMO reported.

Sunday evening, schoolmates of the boys gathered at Carson Elementary to form makeshift memorials on the lawn. Cassie Vermeer, whose son was a classmate of Charles, said he was having a hard time processing the day’s events for his son.

"I really didn't know how to explain it to them," she told KOMO. "I explained what his father did. He will hear it, if not from me, then from other kids or the media so I explained to him about the explosion and that his father took his life and his children's."

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