Desperately Seeking Susan Powell: A Best Friend's Quest

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Amber Hardman / Hardman Photography / Polaris

Josh Powell, far right, with his wife Susan and their two sons Charles and Braden, in a file photo taken on Sept. 30, 2009

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According to Hellewell, Susan never went through with the divorce because she was worried about the safety of her children. "She was afraid that he would kidnap the kids if she said that she was divorcing him and they gave her custody. She was afraid she would never see them again," says Hellewell.

Although Hellewell and her family were suspicious, they attempted to maintain their friendship with Josh. "We were trying to be friends with him because we thought that if he had someone he could trust and talk to, that maybe he'd tell us something else [about her] disappearance," says Hellewell.

Starting in January 2010, Hellewell posted regularly on her blog about progress made in the search for Susan, linked to news articles that had been written about the case and sometimes shared information about the missing woman, such as her hobbies and favorite foods. "I've probably spent thousands of hours [searching for Susan]. There is no way to estimate it. It has taken up 80% to 90% of the majority of time since she disappeared," says Hellewell. "The Facebook page takes up a lot of time monitoring the comments. Susan's father continually asked us over the last two years to please not let anyone post anything that was accusatory towards Josh because it's about positivity. We have spent a lot of time taking comments off that were accusatory."

Hellewell also organized service weeks, ribbon-making events and honk-and-wave campaigns for her missing friend. "[I've tried] to do anything I could to keep media interest in the story, which is not easy to do when months go by and the police say nothing publicly and there is no news happening. [I did] anything I could think of to try and keep the media interest [so] people would remember what [Susan] looked like and be able to keep looking for her."

Although Hellewell says she still doesn't know if Josh Powell was responsible for Susan's disappearance, the murder-suicide on Sunday, Feb. 5, diminishes hope that she is alive. "It makes it completely clear that if he was capable of doing such a horrifying thing to the boys that he claimed to love and want to protect from harm, then he is certainly capable of killing his wife," she says.

Hellewell notes that the two-year ordeal has tested her faith but that when she and others in the LDS look back, it's difficult to even consider Josh a member of their community. "Josh had not been going to church for so long [and] he has spent the last few years putting websites out and criticizing the church. I think most people don't think of him as a church member anymore," says Hellewell. "I think that the members of the LDS community are mourning just like everyone else, no matter what faith we are, about what a horrible thing has happened."

In the years after Susan's disappearance, Josh and his father publicly questioned Susan's LDS faith on the site, stating that Susan had proclaimed in front of her ward that she could no longer bring herself "to believe in Mormonism, but I can lean on other people's testimonies." Hellewell believes that Josh and Steven Powell were attempting to tarnish her reputation with the comments. "The [lie] about her faith made me angrier than anything since she disappeared," Hellewell says. "Susan had such a deep faith. She believed so strongly, and she struggled going to church by herself, having prayers with [her sons] without Josh. He watched her struggle through that." It's difficult to ponder whether the tragedy could have been avoided if Susan had in fact divorced Josh. Asked if Susan's life could have been saved by a divorce, Hellewell says, "Yes. I think it could have, unless he had come after her because he was so angry. She was worried about that."

On Sunday evening in Utah, Cheyenne Miller, a woman who had never met the Powells, organized a vigil for the two boys. "We were amazed that these total strangers that didn't know Susan, didn't know anybody in the family or anybody connected with it, were so kind," says Hellewell. Miller told Hellewell she had a friend whose children were killed by an ex-husband. "She just ached for Charlie and Braden and wanted to do something to remember and honor them," Hellewell says. More than 50 people, many who didn't personally know the Powells, attended the vigil. West Valley mayor Mike Winder was among them. "It seems like every once in a while, there are big stories in the news ... that we cling to. Elizabeth Smart's case was one of those. That one had a happy ending — this one had a horrific ending. I think as a community we share those experiences together," said Winder.

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