Josh Powell walked the hallways of Pierce College Puyallup in 1996, when the Gaspard and Brouillet buildings were all that constituted the young campus. Nearly 16 years later, mystery surrounds Powell’s alleged murder suicide of himself and his two young boys on Feb. 5 in Graham.
“We, at Pierce College are truly saddened by the tragedy in our community and the loss of these two young boys,” Chancellor Michele Johnson said. “Many students cross the path of community colleges, and Pierce College is no different. We try every day to instill core abilities, including responsibility, in all of our students. Unfortunately, there are students who have issues beyond our scope.”
Powell claimed on his real estate website he received some of the highest honors available during his Pierce College career, including Phi Theta Kappa membership and graduating Magna Cum Laude with repeated placement on the president’s list.
He also claimed he enjoyed people, participated in many social activities such as public speaking, campus politics, drama productions and writing for the campus newspaper.
Whether or not Powell was involved in these activities at Pierce is unverified.
His claims to have received a degree from Eastern Washington University in business administration have been proven false, according to school records at EWU.
He was never a staff reporter for The Puyallup Post, but one issue of The Puyallup Post archives showed that Powell received the Mr. Know-it-All award and was nominated for Mr. Political in the spring 1996 Wacky Awards.
“He (Powell) was a student of mine about 16 years ago. I remember exactly where he sat and a girl who always sat next to him, whether or not that was Susan, I do not know. He was very introverted and had visited my office on several occasions,” said instructor Christopher Vanneson, who’s taught at the college for 22 years.
Powell’s wife, Susan Powell, disappeared in late 2009 and didn’t attend Pierce College with Powell. They met in 2000 at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ward in Tacoma. Contrary to Vanneson’s image of the quiet, introverted Powell, math instructor Anthony Granata recalls a more sociable side of Powell.
“Josh was a student of mine in both pre-calculus and Precalculus II, way back in 1996. He participated actively in class discussions and he always sought help when he needed it. He was a terrific student,” Granata said. “I saw no indications of any difficulties in his life, which makes this whole thing all the more tragic.”
Academically, Powell was a good student. It’s unclear, however, if he earned his associate’s degree at Pierce because of FERPA laws that limit access to student’s personal information.
Powell moved to Utah with his wife to work in real estate in 2004, but after his wife’s disappearance, he returned to Washington with his sons.
As far as Powell’s student records are concerned, he attended Pierce and is remembered by a few instructors. The truth behind the disappearance of Powell’s wife or his alleged crimes may never be discovered.
However, the memory of Powell as a Pierce College student will be exactly the same as he left it, according to some who remember him.
“I would never have expected this, but I am not one to judge or condemn him. All I have to say is, may their souls rest in peace,” Vanneson said.
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