Even though East Idaho News was founded only seven years ago, this Idaho Falls-based news outlet quickly became well known in the West, especially for its coverage of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell.

J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan, Vallow’s children, went missing in September 2019. Their bodies were later found on June 9, 2020, in Daybell’s yard. Vallow and Daybell, who are now married, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder in the cases of J.J., Tylee and Daybell’s deceased wife, Tammy Daybell. Their joint trial is scheduled for January 2023 in Ada County, Idaho.

One reporter at East Idaho News started following the case well before national media. In an interview with the Deseret News, he shares what it was like to stumble into one of the highest-profile murder cases of the decade.

When did Nate Eaton hear about the story?

Nate Eaton is an award-winning reporter who graduated from BYU-Idaho before he began his career at KIDK in Idaho Falls. After working as a reporter for WRIC in Virginia, Eaton returned to Idaho to launch East Idaho News in 2015. He is currently the news director there.

In October 2019, Eaton received a message from a friend that said, “Have you heard that Tammy Daybell died?” He said that he had never heard of her. At the time, he didn’t think much of it, but the coming months would change that.

A timeline of the Lori Vallow-Chad Daybell murder case

“Over the coming months, I had a few police sources telling me: ‘Something big is coming,’” he said.

Rexburg, Idaho, typically doesn’t have a lot of major crimes or murders, so Eaton was expecting something, but not at all what developed. A few days before Christmas, the police department released a statement that discussed two missing kids: J.J. and Tylee. The statement indicated that the parents were not cooperating.

Eaton began following up on the statement and trying to find people who knew Vallow and Daybell. “This was odd because Rexburg is a tight-knit community.”

While Eaton was at a recital for his daughter, an intern who worked for East Idaho News discovered that both Vallow and Daybell’s former spouses had died in the past year. After the recital, Eaton called one of his sources at the police department and asked him what was going on. This source said he couldn’t tell him what was going on, “but picture the craziest story you’ve covered times 100.”

East Idaho News decided that it would look into the story about the missing children after Christmas — and that’s when the story started to pick up.

Confronting Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell

Shortly after Christmas, an anonymous tipster with a fake Facebook profile sent East Idaho News GPS coordinates of the location of Vallow and Daybell. Eaton had informed the police that he wanted to interview Vallow and Daybell, but he didn’t want to interfere with the investigation. They asked him to wait for their call to avoid spooking them.

Two or three weeks later, Eaton said he got a phone call from the police telling him that he might want to get to Hawaii by the next day. That was on a Thursday. He called the intern who was working on the story with him and told him that they were going to Hawaii. Eaton and the intern arrived in Hawaii on Saturday. On Sunday, Eaton coordinated with an investigator who said that nothing was going to happen that day.

Later that day, the investigator called Eaton again and said, “Things have sped up, we need to move on.” While on the call, Eaton said he looked up and saw two police cars and an SUV. Immediately, Eaton and the intern began following the cars.

They arrived at the scene and Vallow and Daybell were there. The police served two warrants and seized Vallow and Daybell’s vehicle. Now Eaton finally had a chance to interview them.

Eaton held a microphone as he walked quickly alongside Vallow and Daybell in Hawaii. In this video posted by East Idaho News on Jan. 26, 2020, Vallow’s children had been missing for weeks and she had just been ordered by the court to produce them in front of a judge. Vallow and Daybell refused to answer any of Eaton’s questions.

Vallow was arrested on Feb. 20, 2020, after she refused to meet the deadline to return her children. She would have to return to Idaho in handcuffs. Daybell also returned to Idaho and remained near Rexburg.

Leading up to the discovery of J.J. and Tylee’s remains

The period after Vallow’s arrest was a challenging time for Eaton.

“We had to hire security,” he said. He recounted how there were threats against East Idaho News and threats against him for coverage. “Chad was not in custody, and you’ve got these deaths that had happened, but you didn’t know who else were their followers. They were people defending them, they were people attacking me, attacking my work.”

He described this time as overwhelming: “I kept thinking: Are they ever going to find these kids?”

Then, the FBI sent out an alert on March 5, 2020, about how Tylee was last spotted at Yellowstone National Park. Eaton began wondering, like others, if the children were dropped in a hot pot or geyser. “I never, ever suspected that they would be found in Chad Daybell’s backyard.”

Before the children’s remains were found and Daybell was arrested, the town exploded with Chad Daybell sightings. Eaton explained that he tried to interview Daybell at his house, but he had a big sign on his door that said, “Absolutely no media.” There was a lot of uncertainty during these months, but soon the children were found.

Discovery of the children’s remains

When asked what it felt like in Rexburg the day and the week the children’s remains were found, Eaton said it was one of the heaviest weeks the town has experienced. It impacted residents deeply. He used the word “heavy” to describe what it felt like to know for certain that the children were dead.

Since the children were found on June 9, 2020, and Vallow and Daybell were charged with murder, Eaton has continued to cover the case. His coverage for East Idaho News has become arguably the most widely cited news coverage of the case.

Looking ahead, Eaton discussed whether there would be any major bombshells that would come out in Vallow and Daybell’s trial in January. He said that with this case, he believed there surely would be.