A social worker smelled gas as she tried for six minutes to get help before the explosion

By Mike Fleeman
Updated February 08, 2012 02:30 PM
Credit: Amber Hardman/Hardman Photography/Polaris

After she dropped off the two young boys last Sunday for a supervised visit, and their father Josh Powell slammed the door in her face, the social worker knew something was horribly wrong – and immediately called 911.

For the next six minutes, Elizabeth Griffin-Hill tried to convince the emergency operator to send help for Braden, 7, and Charlie, 5, according to a recording of the call released Wednesday.

Finally, just moments after the dispatcher said the first available deputy would respond, flames engulfed the Tacoma, Wash.-area home.

“He blew up the house and the kids!” Griffin-Hall shouts.

“The kids and the father were in the house?” the dispatcher asks.

“Yes,” Griffin-Hall says.

Powell and the boys died in the blast. He had been embroiled in a custody dispute with the parents of his missing wife Susan. Powell also was a person of interest in her 2009 disappearance when they lived a Salt Lake City suburb.

Shortly before the explosion, Powell sent a chilling email to his sister Alina Powell saying that he couldn’t live without the boys. Alina then also called 911.

“I’m terrified to drive over there,” she says in tears in a separate call also released Wednesday. “I’m not afraid of him. He’s never hurt me. I’m afraid of seeing something I don’t want to see.”

Social Worker’s Worries

Griffin-Hall had delivered the children to the house for court-ordered visitation when Powell pulled them inside and closed the door in her face. She then called 911 from her car while still parked in the driveway.

“What should I do?” she asks the operator. “Nothing like this has ever happened before at one of these visitations. I’m really shocked. I can hear one of the kids crying. This is the craziest thing, he looked right at me and closed the door.”

The two then try to determine the exact address of the house, with a frustrated Griffin-Hall saying, “You can’t find me by GPS?”

“I think I need help right away,” she adds, the panic in her voice building, until four minutes into the call she says, “I’d like to pull out of the driveway because I smell gasoline, and he won’t let me in.”

At the six-minute point, the operator says, “We’ll have somebody look for you there.”

“Okay, how long will it be?” Griffin-Hall asks.

“I don’t know, ma’am,” says the operator. “We have to respond to emergency life-threatening situations first. The first available deputy …”

“This could be life-threatening,” interjects Griffin-Hall. “He went to court on Wednesday and he didn’t get his kids back. I’m afraid for their lives.”

That’s when the house exploded.

Griffin-Hall’s husband tells Seattle TV station KING5 that his wife is “devastated and traumatized.”

In a phone call to her husband after the fire, a distraught Griffin-Hall said of the boys: “They trusted me, they trusted me.”