Josh Powell: 911 dispatcher admits to being ‘clumsy,’ ‘faltering’


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The 911 dispatcher who took a social worker’s first phone call before Josh Powell killed his two boys himself told NBC’s ‘Dateline’ that he was ‘clumsy’ and that he wishes he had recognized the urgency of the situation.

In the days after Powell killed his two young boys and himself in a fiery explosion, public outcry has condemned how social services, family courts and emergency responders handled the long-troubled Powell family saga.


But much ire has been directed at the 911 dispatcher . At first he did not seem to take seriously the initial phone call by the social worker, who said Powell locked her out of his home when she arrived with the boys for a supervised visit.

In an interview that aired Friday night, the dispatcher said, ‘I just wish that I had understood better what the circumstances were and the lethal quality of this call and all the dangerous potential that was there.’

Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, the social worker, became increasingly frustrated as the phone call went on, with the dispatcher asking her what color car she was driving, how to spell Powell’s last name and his date of birth.

In his first interview, the dispatcher said he missed cues about the emergency in the call by Griffin-Hall.

‘As I re-listen to the call I recognize now that I missed, for example, the fact that she said that she smelled gas. Now I heard her say that, but she... immediately followed that comment with ‘I want to move my car out of the driveway.’ Well, sitting in an idling vehicle, you would smell gas, so I didn’t give it the significance that it deserved. I should have asked her more about that.’

The dispatcher also said that despite his second-guessing, he believes that a quicker response time would not have helped much.


‘What if we had gotten deputies there two minutes later,’ he said. ‘They would not have immediately kicked the door and rushed in. They would have staged and cordoned off the area and treated it like a hostage situation.’

When asked by Morrison what his response was when he later learned that Powell blew up the home with the boy inside, he said:

‘It was horrible... especially for someone who has done this as long as I have and to re-listen to the call and to hear how clumsy and faltering I sounded and laboring with what turned out to be a horrible situation but that I didn’t recognize as such.’

The story of the Powell family began the night of Dec. 7, 2009, when Josh Powell, living with his wife in Utah, packed his two boys into the car in the middle of the night -- in the midst of a heavy snowstorm -- purportedly to take them camping. His wife, Susan Powell, has not been seen since.

He initially told authorities that his wife may have decided to disappear, or perhaps committed suicide.

Josh Powell, who was described by Griffin-Hall, the social worker, as ‘really, really evil,’ initially had custody of his boys and moved with them to his father’s house in Washington state not long after his wife’s disappearance.


But in September, police executing a search there allegedly discovered thousands of pornographic pictures and videos -- including furtively taken shots of neighbor children in various states of undress -- on a computer belonging to Powell’s father, Steven.

On Saturday, a funeral was held for Charles, 7, and Braden Powell, 5, in Tacoma, Wash., where hundreds turned out.


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-- Ricardo Lopez