Case of missing children tied to doomsday beliefs, 3 deaths

HONOLULU — Family members used to describe Lori Vallow as an attentive mother who had her kids’ best interests at heart.

But that was before she reportedly declared herself a god sent to prepare the world for an imminent apocalypse. Before three untimely deaths of people surrounding her. Before her children went missing.

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Seven-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and his 17-year-old sister, Tylee Ryan, haven’t been seen since September. After fleeing from Idaho to Hawaii during an investigation, Vallow, 46, was arrested Thursday on charges of felony child abandonment — a milestone in a case that spans several states and is filled with bizarre twists.

“If somebody two years ago would have said this is what’s going to happen with Lori, I never would have believed it,” JJ’s grandfather, Larry Woodcock, said last month when he announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the children. “I don’t know what caused this conversion. You don’t go from being mother of the year, mother of a special needs child, to being a person who won’t even tell you where she is at, where he is, where they are at.”

“There’s a timeline change with Lori, and it started a few years ago,” he said.

Some of the timeline is detailed in newly released court documents from investigators in the rural Idaho city of Rexburg. The documents paint a bleak picture, with police saying Vallow repeatedly lied about her children’s whereabouts, their belongings had been found in an abandoned storage unit and there has been no sign of them for months.

Vallow appeared Friday in court in Hawaii, where her attorney couldn’t get her $5 million bail lowered. Defense attorney Daniel Hempey said police knew she was on Kauai and had a lawyer who’s offered to turn her in.

“Instead she was arrested and media was calling us all day,” Hempey said. “It seems like it was a made-for-media event at taxpayer expense.”

She faces a hearing March 2 on extradition to Idaho.

Of Vallow’s children, Tylee disappeared first, according to a probable cause affidavit written by Rexburg police Lt. Ron Ball. The teen went on a day trip to nearby Yellowstone National Park with her mom, little brother and uncle. A National Park Service camera captured her image at the entrance, and a photo from Vallow’s computer shows the girl made it inside the park.

But ever since? No trace, Ball wrote.

Then JJ vanished, the document says. He was enrolled in an elementary school for a few weeks in September and last seen there, shortly before Vallow told employees that she was going to homeschool the boy.

“We have not been able to find any witnesses who have seen J.V. since September 24, 2019,” Ball wrote.

Investigations into strange circumstances surrounding Vallow didn’t begin in September. Her husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed in July at the family’s suburban Phoenix home by her brother, Alex Cox.

The Vallows’ marriage had been crumbling. Charles had filed for divorce, saying in court documents that he feared she would kill him and that she’d developed strange, doomsday-cult-like beliefs, reportedly calling herself “a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020.”

Cox told police the shooting was in self-defense, that Charles Vallow had come at him with a baseball bat. Police investigated, but the case didn’t go far before Cox died of unknown causes in his Arizona home in December. Toxicology reports done as part of an autopsy have not yet been released.

Lori Vallow moved to Idaho with the kids. She got an apartment in Rexburg in early September and reportedly continued spending time with an old acquaintance, Chad Daybell.

He’s a publisher and author who has written several books loosely based on theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, largely focused on doomsday scenarios. He also posted podcasts for an online organization aimed at church members, with an interest in preparing for biblical end times.

Lori Vallow participated in some of the podcasts, and the two had grown close.

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Daybell’s longtime wife, Tammy Daybell, died in October. The obituary said the 49-year-old fit school librarian died of natural causes, and the family declined an autopsy before she was buried in Utah.

About two weeks later, Chad Daybell and Vallow married on a Hawaii beach.

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