The mother of two missing children in Idaho who were found dead last year, and her husband, appeared briefly in court Wednesday via Zoom after they were charged with murder in the children’s deaths.
Prosecutors announced Tuesday the new charges against Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell, her husband who is also facing murder charges in connection with the children’s death and his former wife’s death.
The Daybells had been facing lesser charges, but Tuesday’s announcement of a grand jury indictment marked the most serious ramping up of the criminal case against the couple.
Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, vanished in late 2019 in a case that drew national attention as details emerged of multiple suspicious deaths, “doomsday” religious beliefs and the Daybells fleeing to Hawaii.
In initial appearance on the new charges in Fremont County, Idaho, Judge Faren Eddins read the charges Chad Daybell faces and the potential penalties if convicted, which include life in prison or the death penalty. Chad Daybell is to be arraigned June 9.
Eddins granted a motion to continue Lori Daybell’s initial appearance at a later date after her attorney sought a delay. Eddins granted the motion “based upon the information that was provided to me,” but did not elaborate. The hearing was separate from her husband’s. Lori Daybell also faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. Her next court appearance was not set.
New court documents lay out the sequence of events that led to the children’s deaths and, for the first time, adds charges in the death of Tammy Daybell, Chad’s former wife.
News of the charges prompted messages of relief and hope from family members of the children and Tammy Daybell. The announcement came on what would have been JJ’s ninth birthday.
Here’s what we know:
How did the Vallow-Daybell case unfold?
In November 2019, police in Idaho performed a wellness check for JJ after his grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock, alerted police that they had not heard from him in several months.
Authorities say Lori Daybell lied about the child’s whereabouts and the next day fled with Chad Daybell. The Daybells had married in early November and then moved to Hawaii in December, but their whereabouts were not immediately known.
The public was first alerted that the children were missing and possibly in danger in December. Police also said Tammy Daybell’s remains had been exhumed and her death, initially said to be of natural causes, was then deemed suspicious.
In January 2020, the Woodcocks announced they were offering a reward for information about the children’s whereabouts. Several weeks later, Lori Daybell, spotted in Hawaii, was issued a court order to bring the children to authorities, which she failed to meet.
In June, JJ and Tylee’s remains were found on Chad Daybell’s property, and he was arrested. Both Lori and Chad Daybell pleaded not guilty to the previous charges they faced.
How did religious beliefs lead to deaths?
In the new indictments, prosecutors said Chad and Lori Daybell as early as October 2018 began to “endorse and espouse religious beliefs for the purpose of encouraging and/or justifying” the deaths of JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell.
Past court filings had alleged Lori Daybell told a friend, Melani Gibb, she believed her children were “zombies.” Gibb also told authorities the couple were part of the “Church of the Firstborn” with a mission to lead the “144,000” mentioned in the Book of Revelation and to rid the world of “zombies.”
The couple first appeared on a podcast together almost a year before the children were announced missing, and family and friends said they were espousing divergent, “prepper” beliefs.
Chad Daybell had operated a publishing company where he wrote books with themes of the end-times and near-death experiences.
In September 2019, Lori Vallow moved from Arizona to Rexburg, Idaho – where Daybell lived with his family – with her children and brother.
However, the move came just months after Cox – Lori’s brother – fatally shot Lori’s then-husband Charles Vallow. Cox claimed the shooting was in self-defense, but the case remains open. Cox died in December 2019 of what a medical examiner ruled was natural causes.
Weeks after Charles Vallow’s death, Lori and Chad Daybell began texting about “death percentages for Tammy and JJ,” the indictments say.
The indictments do not detail how JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell died.
Past court documents said Tylee was last seen in photos at Yellowstone National Park dated Sept. 8, 2019, with her brother, mother and uncle.
Authorities have said Tylee’s body was burned, and past court documents say Cox’s cell phone places him at Daybell’s property around the time Tylee is believed to have died. Chad Daybell also allegedly texted Tammy Daybell that day about lighting a fire in the backyard and shooting a raccoon.
The new court document also allege Chad Daybell searched “ssw wind” and was on a webpage titled “What is the definition of SSW wind direction?” on Sept. 8.
JJ was last seen a couple weeks later when he was with Cox, the new charging documents say. Gibb had told investigators Vallow told her that Cox took the child because he was acting like a “zombie.” His body was also found on Daybell’s property, wrapped in plastic bags and duct tape.
Prosecutors say Lori Daybell continued to collect Social Security Survivor benefits on behalf of her children after they died.
In October, Cox allegedly tried to shoot Tammy Daybell and recorded online searches related to shooting.
Prosecutors said Chad Daybell also increased Tammy’s life insurance policy and texted with Lori Vallow about his wife “being in Limbo, and Tammy being possessed by spirit named Viola.”
On the night Tammy Daybell died, Cox was allegedly parked in a church parking lot 2.5 miles away.
“I want to assure everyone that despite the delays, we have been working diligently to pursue justice for the victims in this case, to ensure we have the evidence required to prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake said at the news conference Tuesday.
What are the new charges against Chad and Lori Daybell?
The Daybells were already facing charges of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence after the children’s bodies were found last June buried on Chad Daybell’s property. Lori Daybell had also been arrested after missing a court ordered deadline earlier in 2020 to bring the children to authorities.
Lori and Chad Daybell are now both charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder tied to JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell’s deaths, and two counts of first-degree murder tied to JJ and Tylee’s deaths. Only Chad Daybell was charged with first-degree murder tied to Tammy Daybell’s death.
Both were also charged with conspiracy to grand theft by deception in connection with JJ and Tylee’s death. Alex Cox, Lori Daybell’s late brother, was also implicated in the charges of conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft by deception.
Lori Daybell was charged with grand theft for allegedly collecting Social Security Survivor benefits for the children after their deaths. Chad Daybell was charged with two counts of insurance fraud after he allegedly lied to collect benefits from Tammy Daybell’s life insurance.
What are JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell’s relatives saying?
In a statement published on East Idaho News, Tammy Daybell’s parents and siblings thanked law enforcement and “all those who’ve continued to seek out the answers during the investigations surrounding Tylee, JJ and Tammy.”
“We appreciate their pursuit of justice, and ultimately some measure of peace for those of us left in the wake of our loss,” the statement said.
Annie Cushing, Tylee’s aunt, told KSAZ-TV, “I’m celebrating today’s news knowing that we still have a lot ahead of us, but it’s just been a jolt of confidence that they can go after Chad and Lori for all of the deaths.”
Colby Ryan, the adult brother of JJ and Tylee, posted a photo on Facebook of his siblings and Charles Vallow with the caption: “YOU WILL ALL HAVE JUSTICE!”
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren