SALT LAKE CITY — Amid nationwide scrutiny, the mother of two missing children is fighting an effort to return her to the last place anyone saw her children alive.
Lori Vallow, also known as Lori Daybell, appeared in a Kauai courtroom Friday afternoon, flanked by her attorney, who said the 46-year-old facing two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of a child will fight extradition to Idaho.
The charges, which carry a possible sentence of up to 14 years each, stem from the disappearance of Vallow’s children, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. The 14-page affidavit supporting those charges details a mysterious and complicated story that includes three dead spouses, a dead sibling, an attempted murder and a possible religious delusions.
In court on Friday, Vallow stood stoically, answering with nods or quiet, one-word answers when questioned by the judge. Her attorney said she was questioned by police even though they knew she’d retained an attorney, but there was no revelation about whether that led to any clarity regarding the whereabouts of her children.
Though her attorney asked for a reduction in bail to $10,000, arguing Vallow is not a flight risk and that the lower amount was more consistent with the type of the charges, the judge left it at $5 million.
Vallow, who also faces three misdemeanor charges — resisting or obstructing officers, criminal solicitation to commit a crime, and contempt of court — will have another hearing Monday, March 2, where she can challenge the legality of the arrest.
The children's disappearances gained national attention after police in Rexburg, Idaho, asked for help finding them on Dec. 20, the same day family members offered a $20,000 reward. Thousands of people have joined online search groups, but nothing shared has led to the children. An episode of “Dateline” last week sought to unravel the complex and confusing case.
Kauai police had been watching Vallow and her recent husband, Chad Daybell, since they arrived on the Island around Dec. 1, but they never saw the children. Still, following news of Vallow’s arrest, family and friends celebrated what they hope will be the first step in finding JJ and Tylee.
“My first reaction was just shock, followed very quickly by elation, and then I’ve kind of felt a tempering of my enthusiasm, like ‘OK, we still potentially have a long road ahead of us,’” Annie Cushing, Tylee Ryan’s aunt, told CBS This Morning. “But it really felt like the first jolt of hope for me that we are hopefully one step closer to finding Tylee and JJ.”
Larry Woodcock, JJ’s grandfather, said, “After nine months, we’ve got, at least, a win for tonight and today and tomorrow. ... The only dent in this armor that we have right now tonight at this time is simply not knowing where JJ and Tylee are.”
Court documents help piece together the timeline since the children were last seen.
The search for the two children began on Nov. 25, with a call from JJ’s grandmother, Kay Woodcock, according to the affidavit. She called police in Gilbert and Chandler, Arizona, where Vallow had lived with Charles Vallow, her now-deceased husband and JJ’s father, until the couple separated early last year and he filed for divorce and a protective order last February.
Charles Vallow told his mother, according to the Associated Press, that he’d become suspicious that Vallow and Daybell were having an affair. The two worked on a podcast together that talked about preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Charles Vallow claimed in divorce documents in Arizona that Lori believed she was a “translated being” and “a god assigned to carry out the work of 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020,” the Arizona Republic reported.
Kay Woodcock asked police in Arizona to check on her grandson, whom she hadn’t seen since they talked via FaceTime in August, according to the affidavit. Officers in Arizona reached out to police in Rexburg, Idaho.
According to the affidavit, Vallow and her children moved to Rexburg the first week of September 2019. The autistic 7-year-old was enrolled for three weeks at Kennedy Elementary School, and he was seen by neighbors at the apartment where he lived with his mother and 17-year-old sister, Tylee Ryan.
On Sept. 24, Vallow told school officials that her son would no longer be attending the school, as she planned to home-school him, and the last day anyone saw the boy was on Sept. 23, according to the affidavit. It goes on to note that the last record of Tylee Ryan is a picture from Vallow’s icloud account of the teen in Yellowstone National Park with her uncle and her mother.
The court documents also raise suspicion about the deaths of both Daybell’s and Vallow’s spouses. On July 11, 2019, Vallow’s estranged husband was shot by her brother, Alex Cox, court documents state. Cox claimed he shot Charles Vallow in self-defense after he hit him with a baseball bat, but that investigation stalled when Cox died in December of unknown causes.
Daybell’s wife, Tammy Daybell, died on Oct. 19, 2019, from what appeared to be natural causes. But police became suspicious and reopened the investigation into her death after Daybell and Vallow married just two weeks later on Kauai, Hawaii. When police questioned Daybell’s parents, who live in Utah, they said they were told that “Lori Vallow was an ‘empty-nester.’”
On Nov. 26, two detectives from the Rexburg Police Department went to Vallow’s apartment to check on the children, as requested of JJ’s grandparents. They spoke to Cox and Daybell outside the home.
“Chad acted as if he didn’t know Lori very well and stated that he didn’t know her phone number,” the affidavit said of the couple, who had married earlier that month. “Alex told the detectives that (JJ) was with his grandma, Kay Woodcock, in Louisiana, which was not likely due to the fact that Kay was the individual who first called in a missing child report to Gilbert Police Department.”
That same day, two other detectives went to Vallow’s apartment and asked about JJ. She told them he was in Gilbert, Arizona, visiting a friend named Melanie Gibb. But when police attempted to call Gibb, they were unable to reach her.
Rexburg detectives reached out to Gilbert police, who were able to reach Gibb by phone. She said she hadn’t seen JJ for months, the affidavit said.
About 10 days later, Gibb called police saying that both Daybell and Vallow had called her separately on Nov. 26 “and asked her to tell the police that she had (JJ), even though (JJ) was not with her,” the affidavit said.
On Nov. 27, Rexburg police obtained search warrants for three separate apartments in Rexburg — one belonging to Vallow, one belonging to her niece and one belonging to her brother. Police couldn’t find either child, and her niece confirmed to police that the couple left Rexburg the night of Nov. 26, court documents said.
Soon after police executed the search warrants in an attempt to find JJ, Gilbert police asked if officers had any evidence of Tylee Ryan being in Rexburg. Ryan’s father is deceased, but she has a brother, Colby Ryan, who said the last time he spoke with her was on Aug. 30, 2019, via FaceTime.
“(Ryan) informed Gilbert police that when he tried to contact (Tylee) after Aug. 30, 2019, Lori would give excuses as to why (Tylee) could not talk with him,” the affidavit said. Gibb told them Vallow said the teen was attending college classes at BYU-Idaho. Police confirmed she was not.
“Tylee Ryan was never enrolled at BYU-Idaho or any other school affiliated with BYU,” the court documents said.
Rexburg police were able to confirm through conversations with neighbors, some of whom helped the family move in, that Vallow moved into the apartment with both Tylee and JJ. Both friends and a babysitter hired to help tend JJ were told he’d gone to stay with his grandparents around Sept. 24.
In a search of Vallow’s storage unit in Rexburg on Nov. 27, police found clothing, pictures, toys and personal belongings of both JJ and Tylee. Police also found an email where Vallow asked the organization that trained JJ’s service dog “about finding another family for Bailey due to a change in life circumstances,” the affidavit said.
On Jan. 16, a Child Protection Action was filed and the court ordered Vallow to “produce (JJ) and (Tylee) within five days of service of the order to the Rexburg Police Department.” She was served by Kauai police on Jan. 25, and she has yet to produce the children or tell authorities where they are, the affidavit said.