By Lateef Mungin, CNN
Authorities have launched an investigation into how dispatchers handled 911 calls from those seeking help before, they say, Josh Powell killed his sons and himself in his Washington home.
Critics have said it took too long for dispatchers to grasp the danger of the situation and alert police.
“We will investigate all aspects of this incident, and if there is a need to refine our processes, (as we do continually) we will do so,” said Tom Orr, director of the Law Enforcement Support Agency, which operates the 911 call center. “If there is a need to investigate from a disciplinary perspective and assign individual responsibility, we will do that as well.”
Call center records show that it took eight minutes for the dispatcher to send a police car, and it took an additional 13 minutes for a police car to get to Powell’s home, CNN affiliate KCPQ reported.
Orr’s comments come as the community come to grips with Sunday’s murder-suicide at Powell’s Graham, Washington home. Powell is accused of snatching his young sons from a social worker who was delivering them for a supervised visit, locking the door, hacking the kids with a hatchet and starting an explosive fire in the home.
Tapes of 911 conversations, released this week, detail the frantic social worker trying to get help.
But even after she told a dispatcher that she smelled gasoline and Powell would not let her in the home, a dispatcher continued to ask questions about her job and says “life-threatening situations come first.”
“This could be life-threatening,” the social worker pleads. “He was in court on Wednesday and he didn’t get his kids back and this is really … I`m afraid for their lives.”
The social worker’s husband said she was badly shaken up.
“She’s very upset and traumatized. She has said that she thinks this is something that is going to be a life-changing event,” the husband told KCPQ.
There has been some criticism of the 911 operator’s responses to the social worker. Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said he wished the operator’s “etiquette” would have been different, but information gathering on such calls can take time.
“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,” Orr told the affiliate.
Services for Charlie, 7, and Braden Powell, 5, will be held Saturday. Family members said they were having a hard time dealing with their grief.
“How could you do that to your children?” their grandfather, Chuck Cox, told HLN’s Nancy Grace on Wednesday night.
Cox said the social worker should not have been taking the boys to Powell’s residence alone.
“I’m glad she is safe,” he said. “She could very well have been in that house. He could have closed the door behind her.”
Powell was embroiled in an ugly custody dispute with the Cox family that stems back to the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox-Powell.
According to investigators, Powell had said the last time he saw his wife was the night he and his sons — then ages 2 and 4 — left to go camping after midnight in freezing weather.
Police have said they will continue to investigate her disappearance despite the deaths.
Chuck Cox said he tried to prevent the visitation.
“We had warned the police … everybody, that he (Josh Powell) was capable of hurting those children and we were very concerned,” he said. But, apparently, the law allowed for it, according to Cox.
“I don’t think we could have done anything more,” he said.
The grandfather restated his belief that his son-in-law, whom he described as very controlling and unlikeable, is responsible for Susan Cox-Powell’s disappearance.
According to Chuck Cox, Josh Powell bristled when he heard or saw evidence that the boys were close to their grandparents.
The Coxes said the boys at first would not talk about their missing mother, but they then opened up a little bit.
One said he last saw her on a camping trip, Chuck Cox told HLN. But then they would forget details or not want to talk about her.
“They went back to a trained and coached response,” the grandfather said. “Josh didn’t want them saying anything about it.”
— CNN’s Thelma Gutierrez, Ashley Hayes, Tina Burnside, Sara Weisfeldt and HLN’s Alexis Weed and Phil Rosenbaum contributed to this report.