Vallow believed children were ‘zombies’; police used cellphone data to locate remains, document says

Authorities in Idaho relied on cellphone tracking data to locate the remains of two children this month after they had been missing since September, court documents say.

The remains of Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, were found June 9 on the property of Chad Daybell, the two children’s stepfather, who married their mother, Lori Vallow, just weeks after his wife of 30 years died under “suspicious circumstances” last year.

Police used information from the cellphone of the children’s late uncle, Alex Cox, to find their remains buried on Daybell’s property, a probable cause affidavit unsealed Friday says.

Cox fatally shot Charles Vallow, Lori Vallow’s ex-husband, in July 2019. Both Lori Vallow and Daybell are in custody in Idaho awaiting court hearings on separate felony charges.

The twisting case spans multiple states, death investigations and allegations of cult-like religious beliefs since police first announced in December the children were missing.

In the court document unsealed Friday, police say that Lori Vallow’s friend, Melani Gibb, cooperated with authorities and told them that Vallow believed her children had become “zombies.”

Gibb said Vallow told her she believed a “zombie” was “an individual whose mortal spirit has left their body and that their body is now the host of another spirit,” the affidavit says. The new spirit is “dark” and puts the person into a “limbo” that can only be released once the person’s “physical body” is killed, Vallow allegedly believed.

Gibb says Vallow and Daybell asked her to lie to authorities about the children’s whereabouts, and court documents in Vallow’s case allege that the mother told police that JJ was with Gibb in Arizona when authorities performed a welfare check in November.

In an interview airing Monday with NBC News’ “Dateline,” Gibb says Vallow and Daybell “tried to use me as their way of escape.”

According to the probable cause affidavit in Daybell’s case, Gibb told authorities Daybell and Vallow told her they 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.”

Charles Vallow made similar allegations when filing for divorce from Lori Vallow. Gibb told authorities that Daybell told Lori Vallow about the beliefs in “zombies” in reference to Charles Vallow.

Vallow’s death was being investigated as a homicide. Cox claimed self-defense, but Cox later died in December from an apparent pulmonary blood clot.

With assistance from the FBI, police in Rexburg tracked Cox’s cellphone to Daybell’s property on Sept. 6, 9, 23 and 25, around when both Tylee and JJ were last seen. 

Tylee was last seen Sept. 8 in Yellowstone National Parks as photos show her with JJ, Vallow and Cox. Around 2 a.m. on Sept. 9, Cox’s phone was located at Vallow’s apartment in Rexburg, where she lived with Tylee and JJ, the affidavit says. It was the only time that month Cox was at the apartment in the middle of the night, the court document says, and his phone was later tracked that morning to Daybell’s property, where he stayed for about 2.5 hours.

Daybell texted his late wife, Tammy Daybell, that morning, saying that he lit a fire with debris in the backyard and that he spotted a raccoon on the property, shot it and buried it in the family pet cemetery, the document says. “Well, I’ve had an interesting morning!” Daybell texted her.

Police called this text “suspicious” as raccoons are nocturnal animals and noted that neighbors had said the Daybells rarely used their fire pit up until recent months when they lit several fires.

The cellphone tracking data also placed Cox on Daybell’s property around the time JJ was last seen and when Gibb, Vallow’s friend, said she visited the family in Rexburg in late September.

“Soon after she arrived Lori Vallow informed Gibb that JJ had become ‘zombie’ and pointed out behaviors such as sitting still and watching TV, claiming JJ said he loved Satan, and an increased vocabulary as evidence that JJ was now zombie. Gibb observed JJ’s behavior and felt it to be the same as she had always observed it,” the affidavit says.

Gibb and her boyfriend David Warwick said they saw JJ on the night of Sept. 22 when Cox took him to his apartment in the same complex in Rexburg. Cox returned with JJ sleeping on his shoulder, which Warwick noted as a “tender moment.”

When they woke up the next morning, Gibb and Warwick asked Vallow where JJ was, and she said that Cox had taken the child because he was “acting like zombie and had been crawling on the kitchen cabinetry,” the affidavit says.

Later that morning, the cellphone tracking data placed Cox’s phone at Daybell’s property.

When police executed their search warrant in early June at Daybell’s property, they found disturbed top soil near sites where Cox’s phone had been located, according to the affidavit.

At the site where Cox was Sept. 23, human remains were found wrapped tightly in plastic and duct taped, including “the crown of head covered in light brown hair,” the court document says.

At the site where Cox was Sept. 9, near the Daybell pet cemetery, human bones and tissue, some charred, were discovered along with some animal remains.

Police say Daybell was watching investigators dig up his property while sitting in his SUV. He fled when the remains believed to be JJ’s were discovered but was arrested shortly after.

Daybell currently faces two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. Vallow faces two felony child desertion charges as well as various misdemeanors. Vallow was arrested in February in Hawaii after she failed to meet a court-ordered deadline to bring the children to authorities in Rexburg.

The couple had been living in Hawaii since December before Vallow was arrested. They married there weeks prior, shortly after Tammy Daybell had died. An autopsy to determine a cause of death for Daybell is pending.

Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell believed missing Idaho kids were zombies