Last fall, authorities began a nationwide search for 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, who disappeared mysteriously from their small town Rexburg, Idaho. In the months after they disappeared, the matter became more and more complicated – and bizarre.
This summer, police discovered the remains of JJ and Tylee buried in rural Chad Daybell, who is married to the children’s mother Lori Vallow (she is Tylee’s biological mother and JJ’s adoptive mother). No one has been charged in connection with their deaths, however Daybell and Vallow is both awaiting hearings on allegations of conspiracy to conceal evidence under a criminal complaint obtained by ELLE.com.
Prior to their 2021 trial, Investigation discovery premieres Judgment Day: the missing children (available to stream January 4 on Discovery +), a revealing new documentary with interviews with JJ’s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock. Below, Kay opens up ELLE.com about their continued journey to find justice for Tylee and JJ
This time last year, I still had hopes that JJ was alive. My 7-year-old grandson and his 17-year-old sister, Tylee, had not been seen in months, but I would not allow myself to think the worst. I could not – only before there was evidence to the contrary.
It is a Christmas tradition in our family to give all the grandchildren a new set of pajamas. So my husband Larry and I chose a special blue pair of glow-in-the-dark sharks for JJ, just in case he was found and brought home in time to open presents.
Christmas came and went, and JJ’s gift sat unopened in our living room. Then six months later, we got the proof we needed but never wanted: Tylee and JJ’s bodies were discovered.
I used to know all the details of what happened. Hows and whos and most importantly why. Now, it’s okay not to know, because I do not think I could live with the truth if I did. What happened to Tylee and JJ was so awful, so painful, that some days it still doesn’t seem real.
No one has been held accountable yet, but I will do whatever it takes to make sure their killer stays behind bars all his life.
The last answering machine I have from JJ is short and sweet. Most nights I fall asleep and listen to it: “Hey! This is JJ, I just called to say I love you. Okay, I have to go. Goodbye!”
When he was taken from us, JJ really came into his own. His sense of humor became more dull for the day, and he loved to read. His favorite book all along was Ten little monkeys jump on the bed. Every picture I took of him was blurred because he was constantly running, swimming, and cycling around the neighborhood. When he got tired, he watched YouTube videos of planes taking off. He would have made a great pilot one day. He was so fearless.
Tylee was a spitfire. She loved to dance and shop and play the piano. She was sharp and fast, always good for a sassy comeback or a witty joke. When my brother, Charles, and his wife Lori, Tylee’s mother, legally adopted JJ from my son, Tylee fell in love with him right away. I will never forget JJ’s fourth birthday party as they filled water balloons together and aimed everything in sight.
For many years they seemed like a happy family. It was not until 2018 that Charles told us that Lori was behaving strangely. Larry and I do not like to be curious, but it got to the point where we realized, “Okay, something weird has to happen.”
On July 11, 2019, we received a call that Charles was found dead on the floor of their home in Phoenix, Arizona. Police officially announced that Tylee and JJ were missing five months later.
[[[[Editor’s note: Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, complainswith it was in “self defense“Alex was never charged and later died of natural causes, according to NBC News. JJ and Tylee was photographed together with Lori and Alex while he was still alive in September in Yellowstone National Parkaccording to the FBI. When police began investigating their disappearances in December, Lori had remarried to a man named Chad Daybell. At that time Lori and Chad refused to collaboration with an investigation, according to -one announcement released by Rexburg Police.]
I had never been so scared in my life. I prayed they both lived. Maybe they had gone out of the net? Or got lost? This may sound crazy, but I actually hoped they were hooked on a cult, because at least that would mean they were still breathing.
Larry and I did media interviews and offered a monetary reward for information. Our love for JJ and Tylee even made us examine our own. We traveled around the country to talk to Lori’s neighbors, investigators, police, and the FBI. But the more we found out, the more confusing it all became. Where were the children? Who would kidnap them?
And why did Lori not cooperate with the police?
Days went by without updates and I started to lose hope. At the time, I thought the worst part of this endless nightmare was the ignorant. Then Larry and I called. It was June 9, 2020, and an FBI agent told us they were searching the home of Lori’s new husband Chad with carcass dogs and search equipment.
What they found made me sick to my stomach. It was more awful than anything we could have ever imagined. I was so wrong with “not knowing”. This-this– was the worst part of our endless nightmare.
Everyone is talking about “closure.” I think closure is relative to the person experiencing trauma or grief. Everyone has their own way of accepting and dealing with a situation, especially when it is such a thing. After their bodies were discovered, I stopped having nightmares. But there is still so much to do when it comes to getting justice.
[[[[Editor’s note: No one is charged with JJ and Tylee’s death. Both Lori and Chad is currently in custody in Idaho and awaiting court hearings on separate conspiracy charges to conceal, destroy or alter evidence, according to criminal complaints obtained by ELLE.com. They have pleaded guilty.]
This fall, we had two hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Larry and I live. If you have ever evacuated your home during a natural disaster, you know the exercise: Grab your valuables and get out. For me, it included JJ’s shark pajamas – the blue, luminous darkness we never gave him. “I’ve already lost JJ,” I thought to myself. “I can not lose these too.”
Larry and I have since moved into a new home – a new kind of kind for us. JJ’s pajamas were the first thing I unpacked when we moved. Now they hang up in my closet where I can see them every day.
This interview is easily edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.