REXBURG, Idaho — Remains uncovered at Chad Daybell’s rural home in Idaho Tuesday are those of his wife’s children last seen in September, Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and his sister, Tylee Ryan, 17, their families confirmed.
“We are filled with unfathomable sadness that these two bright stars were stolen from us, and only hope that they died without pain or suffering,” the families said in a joint statement Wednesday. JJ’s grandparents Larry and Kay Woodcock, Tylee’s brother Colby Ryan, and his wife, Kelsee Ryan, asked for privacy while they process word of the children’s deaths.
As they grieved Wednesday, a judge set bail at $1 million for Chad Daybell, who is charged with concealing evidence after investigators made the grim discovery in his yard in Salem, just north of Rexburg, Tuesday.
The children’s mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, is awaiting trial on charges including child abandonment.
A neighbor told police Daybell, his formerly outgoing neighbor, had several bonfires in the last nine months — something they’d never noticed before Daybell’s wife, Tammy, died in October 2019.
“We had never noticed a lot of big fires, as far as the Daybells having big fires like that,” said Matt Price. “They had a big bonfire in the fall ... not long after Tammy had died. ... It was 10 feet high, pretty wide, pretty big.”
Price wasn’t the only neighbor to notice, although he was the only one to contact police.
The fires began again this spring.
“This year they had two really big fires that we noticed,” he said. “Probably less than a month ago.”
So Price said he notified police, and along with some other details, he was told detectives pieced together enough information for a search warrant. Investigators’ excavations in the backyard are near the sites of the fires, he said.
“The information I gave them was nothing significant,” said Price, who has lived in the house for 12 years and been Daybell’s neighbor for about five years. “It was just little things that I had observed or knew about Chad and Tammy. And they told me that helped them.”
He recounted an incident where Chad and Tammy Daybell came to his house to buy pumpkins.
“We raise a little pumpkin patch every year,” he explained. “And Chad, his demeanor was very disconnected. He normally is more outgoing. He didn’t carry on a conversation with us or make eye contact with us. So we thought that was very odd behavior.”
Price said police told him they have been disappointed more neighbors haven’t come forward or helped police more when questioned.
Price said the allegations against the Daybells have been “really disturbing. Especially having kids.”
“He seemed like a humble good man. At least, that’s what he presented as. So this is all very disturbing,” he said.
Fremont County Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins sided with prosecutor Rob Wood’s request of $1 million bail for Daybell, noting the evidence that he is accused of concealing is human remains.
“It’s not simply a document, drugs, a gun,” Wood said, explaining that the remains belong to children.
Wood called the manner of concealment for one body “particularly egregious” and argued that Chad Daybell is a flight risk.
Eddins ordered Daybell to wear an ankle monitor if he raises bail and said he would be ordered to remain within a three-county area, avoid any contact with victims’ families and keep in touch with his attorney.
Daybell, 51, appeared in court over a video feed from jail, wearing a gray striped jail uniform and sitting next to his defense attorney. He answered brief questions from the judge, responding “yes” when asked if he understood his rights.
Attorney John Prior argued for bail of no more than $100,000, noting that his client is not charged with a crime more serious than evidence tampering. Daybell has family and property in the area and has “every intention of addressing these issues,” Prior said.
His client did not try to run when police showed up at his home Tuesday, and while the case has drawn widespread attention, “publicity is not a reason to raise the bail to an extraordinary amount,” Prior argued.
Daybell was booked into the Fremont County Jail a short time after several police agencies served the search warrant Tuesday.
He faces two charges of destroying or concealing evidence, a felony offense. A conviction carries up to five years in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A criminal complaint alleges that Daybell either helped or hid the remains sometime between Sept. 8, 2019 and June 9, when the FBI and the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office helped Rexburg police in serving a sealed search warrant at Daybell’s home. Aerial photos showed large mounds, tarps and tents in an expansive yard there Tuesday.
Annie Cushing, an aunt of the 17-year-old Tylee, said she is eagerly awaiting autopsy results and hopes to have closure soon.
“As sad and taxing as this protracted investigation has been, I’ve been deeply touched by the heartfelt expressions of grief, kindness and support throughout this process. Tylee and JJ won the hearts of people all across the globe,” Cushing said in a statement. “I’ve seen and have been impacted by both the worst and best of humanity. Hopefully goodness and justice will win out in the end.”
Authorities in Rexburg say the Daybells have lied several times about the children’s whereabouts and noted Lori Daybell flew to Hawaii the day after police first questioned her and her new husband.
The case also includes investigations into three mysterious deaths of people the couple is tied to and their rumored apocalyptic religious beliefs. They have both been involved in an Idaho-based group that promotes preparing for the biblical end of times.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office is investigating them in the death of Chad Daybell’s former wife, Tammy Daybell. Two weeks after she died in her sleep, Lori and Chad Daybell wed in Hawaii.
Her remains were exhumed, but an autopsy report has not yet been released.
Lori Daybell’s estranged husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed by her brother Alex Cox before Cox’s own death, which was determined to be from natural causes. In divorce documents filed before his death, Vallow alleged that his wife believes she is “a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020.”
Chad Daybell returns to court for a preliminary hearing July 1; Lori Daybell, now jailed in Madison County, is due back in court the following week.
Contributing: Garna Mejia