2 Idaho kids still missing, mom said she was 'a god': What to know about her cult-like beliefs

USA Today/February 12, 2020

By Ryan W. Miller and Chelsea Curtis

Lori Vallow, the mother of the two Idaho children missing since September, allegedly believed she was a god and married self-published author, Chad Daybell, who wrote dozens of books on apocalyptic events and near-death experiences.

The bizarre case spans multiple states and suspicious death investigations as Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, have not been seen since Sept. 23 in Rexburg, Idaho.

Vallow failed to meet a court-ordered deadline to produce her children to authorities by Jan. 30, and she and Daybell were last seen in Hawaii without the children.

Vallow and Daybell married just weeks after his ex-wife, Tammy Daybell, died in October, and her ex-husband, Charles Vallow, was allegedly killed in July by her late brother, Alex Cox, whose  December death remains under investigation, too.

Lori Vallow and her children moved to Idaho over the summer, but she never reported them missing and has not been cooperative in the investigation, police say. The couple has not been charged. Chad and Tammy Daybell had five children of their own.

Underpinning the investigation are the alleged religious beliefs that she held and raised concerns among relatives since the children have gone missing.

Lori Vallow claimed she was 'a god,' divorce records show

Charles Vallow claimed Lori Vallow didn't want anything to do with him or Joshua "because she had a more important mission to carry out," according to the court documents. Charles said Lori claimed she was "a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ's second coming in July 2020," the court documents said.

She also told Charles that she would kill him if he got in her way and that she had "an angel there to help her dispose of the body," court documents said. Shortly after her alleged threats, Charles took out an order of protection against Lori Vallow, according to court documents.

Charles claimed that Lori Vallow had "become infatuated and, at times, obsessive about near-death experiences and spiritual visions," according to court documents. He said he attempted to get her help; however, she refused to visit a doctor because “they would discover that she is a translated being," court documents said.

Chad Daybell's autobiography centers on near-death experiences

In his 2017 autobiography, "Living on the Edge of Heaven," Chad Daybell depicts a deeply spiritual life in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From his early years in Utah, death and near-death experiences for him and others surround his life.

He says his first near-death experience came in high school when he was cliff jumping. He had just been injured in a ski accident and almost hit in the head by a golf ball in the weeks leading up. When he jumped off the cliff into the water, he said it felt like his head hit concrete but he soon realized "my spirit was partly out of my body," Daybell wrote.

"During those few moments I could see on the other side of the veil  ... an endless white plain in all directions. ... I also felt tangible energy particles of knowledge rushing toward me from all directions. I just soaked it all in," he wrote.

Throughout the book, Daybell writes about being in the presence of spirits, both of his relatives and of others. He says he often felt these spiritual presences directly intervene in his life.

He and his late wife, Tammy, went to the same high school and began dating after he returned from his mission, a period for young Mormon adults to proselytize or otherwise serve beyond their homes. Daybell and Tammy got engaged after dating for 10 weeks and married in March 1990, he wrote.

While traveling in San Diego, as a young father, Daybell said he had his second near-death experience when a 15-foot wave barreled toward him as he was near a rock formation on the beach. Daybell wrote a voice told him to cling to a rock as the wave crashed down.

"Then my surroundings changed and I found myself in the proverbial tunnel of light. It wasn't a bright white light, but more like a yellow heat lamp. It felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket or a cocoon, and I felt extremely happy," he wrote.

He said he saw two relatives, including his late grandfather, who "explained the tasks I needed to accomplish" and "asked if I would be willing to fulfill the assignments he had outlined, and I agreed to do so."

Daybell, who worked as a journalist and at a cemetery, eventually began writing novels, which featured time travel and relied on his and relative's life experiences.

Daybell says that as he wrote one novel, "Escape to Zion" in 2000, he had a repeated dream "that the Twin Towers in New York City were burning." He said he included the dream in the book, and it "kind of threw me for a loop when it actually happened a year later." Daybell said he also had visions of one of his children being run over by a car.

In the early 2000s, Daybell was working at a Mormon book publisher and left after three years to start his own publishing company, where he published novels based on visions of "the decline and downfall of the United States" and an "upcoming foreign invasion of America."

However, book sales stalled during the Great Recession, and Daybell hit pause on the company. Daybell described how the decision took a toll on Tammy and his marriage. He said Tammy began playing Frontierville, a spinoff of the social media game Farmville, for hours on end and received a vision from her grandmother, who told him to "have Tammy quit her d--- computer game cold turkey."

Another vision in 2015 led the Daybells to move to Rexburg, where he said his wife and children were happy. "This is not an indication anyone else needs to pack up and head to Idaho. It just happens to be what our family needed to do at this time," he wrote.

However, Daybell wrote he still believes in an ominous vision coming true: "I don’t know when an earthquake will come, but I have seen in vision the damage it will cause. I hope we still have a few years before it strikes, but it would be best to be prepared if it comes sooner."

Relatives say Lori Vallow joined 'radical,' 'cult' group

Brandon Boudreaux is the ex-husband of Lori Vallow's niece, Melani Boudreaux. He was shot at by an unknown assailant in October driving in a Jeep registered to Charles Vallow and believes the attack, Charles' death and the children's disappearance are connected to a religious group Lori Vallow joined about 18 months ago.

"I just don't know how people can get so wrapped up that they can end up in this space where these people are. It's just so radical, so different," Boudreaux said.

His wife began spending time with Lori and the religious group and suddenly demanded a divorce over the summer, Boudreaux said. 

"I thought I had a happy marriage, so it was pretty overwhelming," he said.

Before the divorce was final, the attempted shooting outside his home occurred. Police later confirmed that the vehicle was registered to Charles Vallow, who had died months before.

A Facebook post by Kay Woodcock, Joshua's biological grandmother and Charles Vallow's sister, says Lori was a "wonderful, loving, attentive mother" until things started changing in the past 18 months because of her involvement with a new religious group, which Woodcock called a "cult."

Both Daybell and Vallow were involved in an organization called "Preparing A People," which has said it is "not a 'group' and is not a 'Cult' or something people join" in a posted statement on its website.

Colby Ryan, Lori Vallow's oldest son and Tylee's biological brother, told KSAZ-TV in Phoenix that he had never known about some of his mother's extreme beliefs.

Ryan, 23, who grew up and still considers himself religious, said his mother would ask about his beliefs but never stated her own.

"I didn't know what she was reading. I didn't know the full belief system of what was going on. So I had no idea that there was a shift," he told the TV station.

Colby and Tylee Ryan's aunt, Annie Cushing, told KSL-TV Lori Vallow had always been religious but became obsessed with the end times in recent years.

Cushing is the sister of Joseph Ryan, another ex-husband of Lori Vallow who died in 2018.

"It's like she wanted me to be afraid of the end times," Cushing told the TV station. "There was one time where she was talking about it and she says, 'Sometimes, I think it would be better just to put my kids in a car and go off the side of a cliff.'"

A string of suspicious deaths

Since Joshua and Tylee have gone missing, both Chad Daybell's wife and Lori Vallow's brother died under circumstances that police are still investigating.

Tammy Daybell, 49 and a mother of five, died Oct. 19 of what authorities initially believed were natural causes. She was buried days later.

When announcing in December Joshua and Tylee were missing, police in Rexburg said Tammy Daybell's death "may be suspicious." Her remains were exhumed Dec. 11, and an autopsy has since been conducted, with results pending.

However, KSAZ-TV reported that the Daybell family didn't want an autopsy after Tammy died. The TV station reported police detective Ryan Pillar in Gilbert, Arizona, called a Fremont County, Idaho, sheriff's dispatcher to ask about the case.

"We just have some cases down here that got our attention with Mrs. Daybell," Pillar told the dispatcher, KSAZ-TV reported. The dispatcher said the coroner and a deputy arrived on the scene after Tammy's death, but no autopsy was done initially.

"They just kinda looked at her, and I was advised that the family didn't want an autopsy and they just went to the funeral home and the family refused an autopsy," the dispatcher told the detective, KSAZ-TV reported.

In Alex Cox's death, the brother of Lori Vallow, KSAZ-TV also reported that a 911 call revealed that a 25-year-old man who said he was the son of Cox's girlfriend called for an ambulance when he found Cox passed out at home on Dec. 12. Police were awaiting autopsy results to determine a cause of death.

Cox fatally shot Charles Vallow, 62, Lori Vallow's ex-husband, on July 11 as Charles Vallow had come from Texas to Chandler, Arizona, where Lori Vallow and her children were living at the time.

According to police, Cox shot Charles Vallow twice in the chest during a fight. He claimed self-defense and told officers Charles had hit him with bat after an earlier argument with Lori.

Reports released in January show detectives were investigating the shooting as second-degree murder with the case still pending before Cox died.

Charles Vallow was Lori's second spouse to die within recent years. Joseph Ryan, the biological father of Tylee and Colby Ryan, died of an apparent heart attack in 2018 in Gilbert, KSAZ-TV reported.

After police announced Joshua and Tylee were missing, an attorney, Sean Bartholick, issued a statement on the couple's behalf, calling Chad Daybell "a loving husband" and Lori Vallow "a devoted mother."

Contributing: Jessica Boehm, Rachel Leingang and Uriel Garcia, Arizona Republic

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