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Lori Vallow's niece talks about missing kids, FBI and her family's role in bizarre case

Melani Pawlowski says the last time she saw her cousins was before Lori Vallow moved them from Arizona to Idaho in September, right before they disappeared.

It's been about eight months since anyone has seen 17-year-old Tylee Ryan or 7-year-old JJ Vallow. Their mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, is in jail in Idaho, refusing to tell investigators where they are.

The kids disappeared in September after their mother moved them from Arizona to Idaho.

RELATED: 'She's protecting them': Lori Vallow's niece defends her aunt in missing kids case

MORE: 'It just keeps getting weirder and weirder': Private investigator weighs in on interview with Lori Vallow's niece

Now, one of her closest relatives, Melani Pawlowski is speaking to 12 News about the case with her husband Ian. Here's an extended version of our interview:

ES: It’s not been often in this case that we hear the perspective of someone who knows Lori so closely.

How would you describe your relationship with her?

MP: Lori is my aunt. I’ve been close with her ever since I was little. She’s somebody I look up to and admire. She’s drama-free, fun, outgoing, very generous. Just a light to be around. She attracts others just with her ability to make light of heavy situations. Just be fun and unconditional love.

ES: That’s different than what we’re seeing now.

MP: I think a lot of this story is based on speculation and rumors. We’re not seeing the full extent of everything involved in this case. It’s a very complicated case and there’s many questions and Ian and I, our goal is to just share what we do know and share that so we can clear up that speculation.

ES: What was her relationship with kids? 

MP: Tylee and JJ adore their mother. Lori’s done everything she can to protect them and just to give them everything they need. They’re really close with their mom. They trust her and they know she would do anything to protect them and love them.

ES: When is the last time you spoke to the kids? 

MP: The last time I saw the kids was the end of August when they were packing up, getting ready to move. This was shortly after Charles, my uncle, was shot.

ES: Why did she say she was moving? Did she give you an explanation?

MP: They were scared. I’ve seen Lori in the past do what she can to protect her kids when the court systems weren’t on their side and it’s frustrating to do everything as a mother to do everything you can to protect your kids. She’s always done everything to protect her kids and I believe she’s doing so now.

ES: Can you elaborate on that?

MP: I think the people speaking most right now and the loudest in the media are the ones that have the most to hide. We’re not asking the right questions. We keep asking, ‘Where are the children?’ and I know Lori hasn’t come forth and said really much of anything. But we’re not asking the right questions on why does she feel the need to protect her kids and from who and from what?

ES: How do you think she’d answer that?

MP: I believe she will answer that one day and I know one of her first statements said something to the effect of once all this speculation and rumor is over. I believe she has a plan. When I look at Lori, I see a strong woman. I still see the same aunt that I know and love and I believe she has a plan and we’ll see what that is as the truth continues to unfold.

ES: Have you had contact with her since she’s been arrested?

MP: No. The last time I had contact with Lori was over the phone in December.

ES: We started to hear your name come into all this after Brandon Boudreaux, your ex-husband claims he was shot at back in October, and he thought it was your uncle Alex Cox who pulled the trigger. What do you make of that?

MP: I’ve never seen any real evidence that proves that Alex Cox shot at Brandon Boudreaux. He was so sure about it and it confused me because, at this point, Alex had passed away. I still don’t have those questions.

ES: How close were you with your Uncle Alex?

MP: When things started to come to light, it began to be hard. I started to call my Uncle Alex to talk to somebody and vent and ‘Hey what do you make of this?’ He drove trucks for a living and he would just always listen, no judgment or drama. He would just listen and give sound advice. When I moved up to Rexburg the first week in November, he was there and helping me every day when I was missing my kids and trying everything I could to have them be returned to me. He would lift me up every day and say ‘Hey, it’s OK.’ He was my closest friend at that point.

ES: He’s also been accused of potentially trying to harm Tammy Daybell and is still being investigated for shooting and killing Lori’s fourth husband, Charles Vallow. Did you guys ever talk about his involvement with any of that?

MP: A lot of the documents and things that are coming forward and questions are stemming initially from the divorce that Charles, the process Charles began with Lori. A lot of documents that he provided initially were now being leaked and it’s kind of old news. The allegations and everything made against Alex and Lori, we’ve never heard what Chad and Lori do believe and everybody is throwing around and making decisions on what they believe and they’ve made their own decisions and made their own conclusions on what’s happened. We received news that the autopsy report, or the ME report, had come out as natural causes for my Uncle Alex, and that was to be expected. We had no reason to believe anything other than that. Even as that’s posted, people are still questioning. They aren’t recognizing truth even when it does come forward. We just want to keep putting truth out there. Hope that people can be open-minded and realize that things in the media might not be portrayed correctly or there might be pieces missing or there might be people hiding certain things. We don’t have answers to where the kids are and why things are going on because we’re not getting the full extent of truth.

ES: I do want to talk a little more about your uncle Alex. He passed away in December. The medical examiner just released he died from natural causes. What does that mean to your family?

MP: It was absolutely devastating to hear that Alex had passed. It was sudden and unexpected and I had no reason to believe it was strange or other than natural causes. His wife Zulema not being able to mourn and grieve over this loss because everything has turned into a whole investigation. She hasn’t had that time to be able to heal and move on and kind of have that closure and comfort. So yesterday, it wasn’t unexpected to finally have these results. We had absolutely no reason to know otherwise, but it was absolutely a comfort. Finally, things are moving forward and we believe everything will continue to be like this. New things will keep coming to light.

ES: Do you think he had anything to do with the kids' disappearance?

MP: I don’t believe Alex had any involvement. I did have a lot of fears when my apartment got broken into by the police knocking down my door, taking things and looking for JJ, and then Chad and Lori left to Hawaii shortly after. I didn’t have anybody to answer those questions and I had every fear and doubt and worry and I got a disturbing phone call from one of Lori’s old friends who told me, basically, all this has happened. Being newly married to Ian, I’m kind of dumping on him. I don’t have these answers. I don’t know what’s going on. I did kind of live for a while in fear and doubt that these things can be true, but when it comes down to it, there’s no facts, there’s no knowledge as to Alex harming the kids or Lori harming the kids. Everything points to she’s protecting them.

ES: What is the true story then?

MP: The true story of this entire case? I don’t have all the answers to that. I know what I know and I know that Lori is a good mother. I know that Ian and I have been tied up in a custody battle on each of our ends. Our ultimate goal is that Lori will be able to be heard and be able to defend her case and she should be able to protect her children. She’s the sole provider to them.

ES: In November, you moved to Rexburg…why?

MP: I know everybody has said I moved to Rexburg to follow Lori. But that’s simply not true. I love my aunt with all my heart. She’s very independent, she does her own thing and so do I. I had a little sister up there going to school, a brother that lived a couple hours away.

ES: What was your contact like with Lori in Idaho? 

MP: Lori, Alex and I shared homes in the same apartment complex. I moved up there the first week in November and a couple — my initial focus was I’m going to get my home ready for my kids. I took everything, all their belongings with me. Despite a few items, stains on their mattress, old items that I couldn’t bring along and we were consolidating to another apartment up there. My biggest focus was getting my home ready for my children. I spent my time in Rexburg just trying to have a fresh start and get my home ready for my children. Later that month I met Ian and things kind of took off and got more exciting after that.

ES: When you were up there [in Idaho], did you ever wonder why Tylee and JJ weren’t with Lori?

MP: Lori had told me that they were getting lots of threats and they had to do everything they could to keep Tylee and JJ safe. I didn’t understand all those threats, but at the same time, Lori knew I was heavily involved in my own case with my ex-husband. She’s really independent, she doesn’t really let people help her. She helps everybody around her. Those questions weren’t answered for me. She was just doing everything she could to protect JJ and Tylee —

ES: Did you ask specifically where they were?

MP: Initially, I think this was before November, when they moved down to Idaho, Tylee would go to school or stay with friends and stay in between and she planned for JJ, to put him in school and have a nanny for him. She was setting everything up for them — her home. She had all of their things and, you know, rooms, individualized for each of them. I had no reason to believe that any harm had been done to the children. Lori had her plan and I trusted that.

ES: What explanation would she give though if her children were not there?

MP: If I would go into her home and I didn’t see them there, sometimes Tylee was out with friends, which wasn’t uncommon. She was a teenager that wasn’t home a lot. She spent a lot of time with her friends, she’s very social. And if I didn’t see JJ, she would tell me he’s either with a friend or has a nanny for him. He required a lot of therapy and time with special needs, so I didn’t have a reason to think that something was wrong. And I knew she was doing everything she could to kind of stay low and not tell people where they were.

ES: What went into your quick marriage?

IP: When I first met Melani, there was things that she was able to understand with my divorce — in my life over the past eight months, nine months — and there were things that I was able to understand about her and I felt that we had a lot of the same thought processes and attitudes about things.

Something clicked very quickly. What really got it going for me, the idea that I wanted to marry her, when I invited her to come to Arizona to Thanksgiving with my family. I drove from Idaho with my kids, she was on her way down to take care of — to wrap up her business with her old house that she moved out of. I invited her to be with my family. She didn’t have anyone to be with for Thanksgiving. And so I invited her and she thought about it for a bit and said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ When she got there, my kids fell in love with her. My daughter is generally a pretty shy person, my son is generally more rambunctious. But something about her attracted them. They loved interacting with her. My daughter wanted to show her her drawings, wrote her notes. She wrote her this beautiful letter all on her own. I’ve got a 7-year-old son and a 9-year-old girl. So my daughter writes her this letter over Christmas after she gets to know her for a bit, tells her how beautiful she is, she’s the best mom ever, she’s got pretty white hair, she’s just overjoyed she’s got Melani in her life. 

But those initial days of Thanksgiving and those that followed seeing how she interacted with the kids, that kind of sealed the deal for me. I already kind of had the idea with how we wanted to move forward in our lives. This is somebody I would like to be with. But seeing her with my kids is what really sealed it for me.

ES: Did you have any idea of the family history before getting married?

IP: I remember Melani talking about family drama and it all happened. It all was condensed. I didn’t think much of it. Everyone has family drama. You know, I had a distant cousin who was cooking meth in his garage. There are just crazy things that happen and you don’t really think much of it, so when you hear people say ‘Oh this person tried to kill me’ or accused me of trying to kill them or this guy died for this reason, I guess it kind of sounds crazy not to give it a second thought, but you know, I know people have crazy things happen in their lives. So, I didn’t really think much of it. I’d heard a little bit of it, but I guess the moment I realized something serious was going on was when we got back from our wedding to Melani’s apartment and saw the search warrant where they were looking for any evidence of JJ or JJ himself. That’s when it became alarming for me.

ES: About two weeks after you married, you wound up sitting down with police and the FBI in Idaho. How were you convinced to start recording conversations?

IP: So, my ex-wife, when we got divorced, she made a point to cut off my entire side of the family, didn’t talk to them at all. No communication between them. It got to a point where — I want to say it was December 1 or 2 — I just got off a FaceTime phone call with your ex-wife and she said Melani’s in a cult, Lori’s in a cult, Chad’s in a cult. They murdered somebody back in July and they tried to kill Melani’s ex-husband. And I’m going ‘What is going on?’ So I reach out to my ex-wife, asking where she’s heard this. She names Brandon and one of Brandon’s business partners as people who are giving her this information. After seeing Chad and Lori disappear and knowing that they’re looking for JJ, things just kind of rolling from there where I’m worried and I want to get this behind me as quickly as possible. So I agreed to go with my ex-wife to sit down and the FBI and Rexburg Police and share what I knew, what I heard. And in that time, Melani had been sharing her fears with me. She was afraid she had these ideas that were festering in her mind and these unconfirmed things that had happened and I kind of took those and ran with them. And so it just kind of blew up into a big mess.

ES: What did the FBI want you to do?

IP: The FBI asked me to record some — after the initial visit, they called me back in the next and said ‘Hey, would you be willing to record conversations for us?’ and I thought that would be an easy out. I’ll do some recording, Chad and Lori will probably call and talk to Melani, they’ll slip up and say where the kids are, anything that could lead us to the kids and I can move on with my life, take my new wife and live happily ever after. It just didn’t’ work out that way. Nothing was ever said where the kids were, or what happened to them. Obviously, I was instructed not to ask directly. Nothing was ever said.

ES: Did red flags ever go up?

IP: The red flags that went up weren’t so much about Melani. I know who Melani is and I know who she is. There was a time when I was concerned she was being taken advantage of, but as I watched and — and I was watching closely. I was sitting inside for the FBI trying to figure out what’s going on to the best of my ability, I’m not a professional investigator. I’m waiting and watching and I’m not seeing anything. That just kind of confirms to me, there’s nothing going on with her. She’s fine. She’s always been a good person. Then as I continue to watch, things aren’t always as they’ve been painted for me.

ES: Melani — sitting there, hearing this. A lot of it is uncomfortable. How do you guys move through this?

MP: I think this entire case is uncomfortable. There’s been death in our family and missing kids and it’s hard, and we’re hoping to come forward and share what we do know because we have hopes that our own children will be returned to us justly, and Tylee and JJ return safely. This investigation in December, as we’re newly married and I’m terrified — for a while I didn’t have contact with Lori and Chad and I didn’t know what to think and Tylee and JJ are missing and Rexburg Police are in my business and my new marriage. 

I don’t hold any resentment for what Ian did. I know he acted in fear and it was a scary time for all of us. But the bottom line is he was trying to protect us. This entire document that was illegally obtained by somebody just trying to hurt — this is old news. This is something Ian put together to protect us. When he went in with Natalie and all these ideas, that turned this entire investigation to a frenzy, this document was put together to give to our lawyers. This is what he went in with. Now we have to explain this to the fullness of truth that it is. In its entirety, there weren’t any facts to this. These were fears, these were worries. I didn’t know my fears and worries were being recorded, but when it comes down to it, I know who Ian was. It’s something we had to work through, it’s something that’s extremely hard. Our goal now is to just make right of that situation and move forward and keep exposing truth.

ES: In the document text — some of it seems more than fears and worries. There’s talk of zombies and the kids might need to die. It’s alarming to hear that. Is there any way you can explain that sort of logic? 

MP: Initially, Charles Vallow had brought over some of these documents that are now being surfaced, this is last — earlier in 2019 before he passed away. He would bring these documents over to my house — how he found these things and it was alarming, I didn’t know how to explain some of these things, stats if you will. Things about Tylee and JJ. So, I did have all these questions and try to process and learn and what’s actually going on here. 

Up until this wellness check, right after Thanksgiving, I had no reason to doubt or fear that Lori had done something to hurt her kids. I got a disturbing phone call from one of her friends. She said this is what I think happened to Tylee and JJ and all these scary things. I don’t know what to think because I can’t talk to Chad and Lori for this time and I don’t know where Tylee and JJ are and I’m scared and I’m kind of venting all of this to my new husband. "What do you think about this? This person said this." But when it comes down to this, he was also hearing on his end, I’m in a cult, Chad and Lori are crazy. He’s hearing these things from our exes who are working together to try and drive a wedge in between us. December was really tough. There were a lot of things being thrown around and the things in the document were the things that were given to Rexburg Police in December to continue confusing this case and mix it up with speculation and rumor by these documents and rumors that might be released — because it just leads the public to have more questions and more reason to believe these crazy things. And unfortunately, the truth isn’t as exciting as these crazy things, so we keep feeding them. This is what people want. Our goal is to just say: Here’s the facts. Here’s the truth. Take it as you will. Most people have unfortunately made up their minds. All we can do is speak truth, that’s our goal.

ES: Where did the ideas of light-dark and zombies come from? 

MP: The initial light-dark was this document Charles brought over to our home when he was kind of being aggressive toward Lori. This document floating around that JJ is so many points light and Tylee is so many points dark and other family names on there. Trying to process what that means in our faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It talks about light vs. dark and as you create positivity in your life, you try to be like our savior, you try to increase your light. 

As you are listening to more negative things, inviting negative things in your life. It’s less light. That’s kind of how I explain it and understand it to my knowledge. And some of the terminology in these documents you talk about "zombies." That was another fear that was told to me on this disturbing phone call — Lori believed her kids are zombies and I believe something happened to them. It was terrifying to hear that because I can’t have those questions answered. But when it comes down to it, I know Lori and the persecution she’s been through. She’s been trying to be a good mother, but I know she’s done everything she can to protect them. And she’ll continue to do so until she’s able to defend her case — and then we’ll have those questions.

ES: A lot of these more radical thoughts have been linked to Chad Daybell. 

MP: Chad and Lori have never come forward and said what their beliefs are. The beliefs that we’re speculating come from a very heated divorce agreement. Papers that Charles initially started filing,  all sorts of false beliefs. Nobody has come forward and said that. Everybody has decided for them what they do and don’t believe. As for Chad and Lori, in my experience being around them, they always have been active members of LDS and they’ve always encouraged me to go to the temple and pray and learn and read scriptures more and follow our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson.

ES: How well did you know Chad?

MP: I don’t know the first time Lori met them or met Chad. I met Chad initially in the fall of 2018. He was selling his books and I met him and he was very quiet, humble guy. Seemed kind, kind of kept to himself. I had no reason to think he was anything other than trying to sell his books and be a good person. Lori and Chad had a friendship. I don’t know when they initially met. I think they shared some spiritual beliefs and would talk about it with his books or the ideas in his books. I can’t speak to their relationship and why they got married fast. Ian and I got married fast and we kind of act on faith and get our own answers and what’s right for our own situations.

ES: Chad and Lori get married quickly in Hawaii — no kids around them. What do you make of her actions? 

MP: It’s hard because you don’t have those answers and you wonder and you have everybody in your ear telling you this happened and their fears and worries and it comes down to just the people that I know and believe them to be and that they have no motive to do anything other than protect Tylee and JJ. Seeing them in Hawaii, after they disappeared from the end of November, it didn’t answer my questions. And I still have questions that aren’t answered. But I know Lori is a strong woman of faith and I know she’s done everything to protect her kids. I can’t speak to Chad and Lori’s beliefs, and one day they can come forward and share what they actually believe so everybody can hear what they believe and stop thinking for them, but I think they’re doing everything they can to protect their children.

ES: Why you think they’re not speaking out now?

MP: I don’t know if anyone is listening. There’s a lot of distraction and deflection and Lori hasn’t been given a fair opportunity to come forward and defend her own case. As we see, her own phone calls are being recorded with her lawyer as she’s in jail. She hasn’t been given a fair opportunity to really fight her case yet, and COVID is extending everything. I hope we have those answers soon and things will continue to move forward, as they will with our own custody cases.

ES: Lori’s not in a position to be watching her kids. Why do you think she isn’t saying anything and is willing to sit in jail?

MP: I can’t speak to why Lori is making the decisions she’s making or why she’s not saying where her children are. I don’t have those answers. I just want a fair and just trial for her without any judgment and speculation and rumor. I just see this process work out for her. That truth to eventually come forward. And I can’t speak for her as to why she’s doing the things she’s doing.

ES: What is it like to see her in this position?

MP: It’s hard to see all the persecution and lies going around on the media. A lot of it is not truth and it’s hard to see people scrutinize her. I’m experienced myself where people have said all manner of things to make their own speculation on this whole entire case. It hasn’t been a fair process — I think the media has played so much into what’s happening in her own case. I just want to see a fair process to her as for our own custody cases. I don’t think it should be affected by speculation and rumor and we’re trying to just get the facts out there.

ES: Lori is in jail for failing to produce her children. Why do you think she either can’t or won’t comply with that?

MP: I don’t have those answers. I know she’s the sole provider for her children...There are so many questions and so many things that are playing out that shouldn’t play out that way. I don’t have answers as to why everything is going the way it is. I think the best thing to do is tell you what you do know and the truth that we have so this case can continue to unfold.

ES: Looking from the outside in, there’s been a lot of media attention and for Lori — a lot of the time — the optics don’t look good. Why stick up for her and why speak out on her behalf?

MP: I don’t feel the need to defend Lori. I know the truth about Lori and who she is. I don’t have answers to everything on her case, I just want to share the truth about things and clear up all the speculation and rumors and have another side, and have people realize it may not be what it looks like.

ES: When there are so many investigators involved and there’s been no sign of the children — at least in a public eye for about eight months at this point — what makes you think that they’re safe and that Lori might not be involved in what could have happened to them? 

MP: I spent most of December living in a state of mind. I listened to all the voices around me of fear and lies and confusion. It simply comes back to I have to stick with what I do know. I have to stick to the truth. The things don’t add up that are being thrown around. It’s not who Lori is. I don’t see a motive for all these accusations being thrown around. Lori has a history of unfortunately not being able to trust the court system and authorities. I don’t have answers as to why she’s continuing to do the things that she’s doing, but I know the person that she is and I know she loves the children with all her heart.

ES: Do you think the kids are safe right now?

MP: I hope and I believe that Tylee and JJ are being protected and safe. I don’t know from what and from who. I don’t have those answers. But I would rather live with hope and faith and belief and what feels right than listen to all the millions of things that feel right and all the things that could have happened and to a state of fear and worry where there’s no facts and evidence.

ES: Why do you believe that Lori wouldn’t harm them?

MP: There’s no evidence of anything in her life that she’s done other than protect Tylee and JJ. She’d have no reason to harm her children.

ES: And the thought that she and Chad and even you — there have been accusations — are in a cult. Is there any truth to that? 

MP: No. There’s no truth. There’s no cult. There’s no truth in that there’s a cult. Lori is my family. Chad married into my family. Alex is my uncle. Zulema married into my family. These are people that I love and I can’t speak to what each of their beliefs are, but my beliefs are consistent with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

ES: I know you said you can’t speak to some of their beliefs — but some of these more radical thoughts, again, circulating what Chad and Lori believe, perhaps might have bearing as to why the kid are missing at this point in time. Do you know anything about a more radicalized version of what they might be believing or what might be guiding them?

MP: I can’t speak to what Chad and Lori believe and I hope that one day they can come forward and share what their actual beliefs are so that we can stop guessing and try to put pieces together and almost charge them with criminal activity to what we think they believe in. There’s simply no facts or evidence to it. Lori or Chad have not given me anything to believe that they would do anything to harm Tylee or JJ.

ES: Not having any contact with Tylee and JJ, are you worried for how they might be or where they might be?

MP: I’ve had every worry and doubt of where can the kids be — are they OK? Are they safe? Why is Lori not speaking? But, I don’t have those answers. I just know what I know, which is Lori is doing everything she can to protect her children and will continue to do so.

ES: If you could talk to her now, what would you tell her?

MP: If I could speak to Lori, I’d just tell her that I love her and it’s always an unconditional love. There’s no pre-judgment. It looks really bad, this whole situation. And I’ve experienced it myself. Everybody thinks the worst of me and Ian, of our entire family, because these continuous lies keep coming out. But you have to stick with truth and what you do know. I would tell Lori I love her and I want to help her and I’m not going to make any judgments until we know for sure what’s actually going on. We’re not going to believe a bunch of people who have never met our family who are putting their own ideas together. It simply doesn’t make sense.

ES: You’ve mentioned the PI still working on this case. He’s told us he thinks you know more than you’re letting on. 

MP: I’ve heard the responses of Rich Roberston, the PI that Brandon Boudreaux and Kay Woodcock hired to follow me and look into all these additional cases. I know my first public appearance was nerve-wracking. These are extremely uncomfortable things to talk about. These are my fears and worries that have been recorded, and the FBI is involved and this is an extremely difficult case. I missed my kids since they were taken from me on October 9. And I haven’t had contact with them. It’s very emotional to talk about these things. I’m trying the best that I can to just say truth and just say what I know. It’s hard to do so, but that’s all we can continue to do to bring light to this case.

ES: To his claim: Do you know more than what you’re telling publicly?

MP: I’m trying to share everything that I have to the extent of my knowledge and to clear up anything that has been speculation or rumor, so that people can have truth and make their own decisions on having all the facts out there. We’ve done everything we can to cooperate with authorities and FBI. I did everything to cooperate with Brandon’s alleged shooting in October. There simply hasn’t been any evidence or facts that I’ve seen yet. We’re doing everything we can to bring about that. We’ve shared everything with authorities that we know. We’re just waiting for additional pieces to come forth so we can put the pieces together and find out the truth.

ES: What do you think the media is missing?

MP: I would say the media is missing — we don’t know Lori’s — we don’t know what’s actually going on with Lori, where the kids are. The media is missing — just in our own individual custody cases, they’re taking everything in these divorce pleadings as fact and a lot of it is hearsay, a lot of it is lies. We’re trying to just come forward with truth and be reunited with our children. We know our kids know who we are and they’re probably scared and confused through all this. This is just a really scary, frustrating time for all of us.

ES: What do you think it will take for Chad and Lori to open up about where the children might be and what might have happened? 

IP: To your last question…it’s been incredibly frustrating to see Brandon’s filing come up in the media and be reported, and the public takes those as fact almost. If it’s in a court document it can’t be a lie. It could have been an exaggeration or a bald-faced lie that just has no basis. To see people run with that and form their opinions and things blow up on social media based on half of the story is extremely frustrating.

ES: A lot of texts that are in these documents are disturbing and alarming and really hard to read. How do you dispute something like that? 

IP: I sent some text messages to my ex-wife based on the fears. Again, it comes back to when we got married. I was hearing things from my ex-wife and she was making all sorts of claims. "This is what a cult does," "this is what it looks like," "this is what I’ve heard from Brandon." And when she shared these fears with me, "what if this happens?" The first time she’s been sharing her suspicions of how Lori was involved in all of this is when she’s being called into the Gilbert PD and they ask her about Alex and Lori and ask for their contact information and that idea festers and the kids disappear with no explanation and she’s questioning these things, she’s sharing ideas. "What if this happens?" "What if this happens?" I’m texting that to my wife. I didn’t make it seem pretty affirmative, she absolutely said "this" or "this is what happened," but basically saying, "this is what it sounds like to me." This document I wrote, I wrote that and that document was written to protect Melani. It was written to keep her safe, to give her lawyers the information to keep her safe from what I’d done. The damage I may have already done. Yeah, those things appear, but then you see so many other claims that just shouldn’t be there.

ES: But again, just going back to that — how do you explain some of the alarming thoughts that are in these documents? I know a lot of it is coming word of mouth from different people, and different conversations. How do you explain some of the disturbing thoughts and concern for children and language that indicates there might be harm done to them? 

IP: A lot of that for me going into this, I’m basing a lot of this on assumption. When I first heard there was a cult and that Chad and Lori are the head of a cult, of course I’m going to think that they’re directing this, these are their beliefs, this is what they said. But like Melani explained, she gets a phone call from one of her friends saying Lori said this and she shares that with me, I’m just taking that as fact, this is what Lori said. But this is a friend of Lori’s, explaining it to Melani and there’s no basis for it. I did a lot of my own research looking into these beliefs. I’m hearing all these scary accusations, I want to understand what’s going on. Without asking too many questions, I’m looking things up and I’m trying to put ideas together. A lot of it was based on assumptions.

You guys have brought up — you’ve heard Chad, Lori are leading a cult. We’ve seen interviews with people claiming to be former members. Is there actually a cult?

MP: There’s no cult that I’m aware of. I’m sure there’s radical cults. I’ve heard of them. Some of the people I’ve seen being interviewed, I don’t even know if Chad or Lori knows some of these people even. I think there’s probably cults out there. This is not a cult. These beliefs being thrown around are not being attributed to a specific person or a cult leader. I’ve seen no evidence of a cult. I know my beliefs are consistent with my faith with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

ES: How do you explain the secrecy surrounding — you know, we haven’t been able hear from Chad or Lori surrounding what they might be believing and what bearing it has —

IP: I would imagine that in order for the case to move forward uncontaminated, they’ve probably been advised to just stay quiet for now, just let things play out in court.

ES: I know none of this is comfortable and there’s a lot of people involved and a lot of "he said, she said, they said" — and a lot of speculation and questions around all of this. Is there anything else you want people to know?

MP: We’re just interested in the truth and just bringing facts forward. Everything is being exposed in our family. In addition to that is speculation and rumor and it’s uncomfortable to come forward and share everything coming on in our lives. We just want to share truth and that’s all we can do in the middle of this frenzy case and we can just hope for the best and trust that truth will come forward and that we’ll have a happy ending.

ES: Chad is an author. You’ve mentioned his books. We’ve researched them. Have you ever read any, do you follow? He portrays himself as a religious leader of sorts. Have you ever followed any of his teachings or thoughts?

MP: Chad Daybell writes a series of fictional books based on what the end of days could look like or the second coming of Jesus Christ as we like to say in our faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His ideas and beliefs I can’t speak to. I just know him as he married into our family and married Lori. He’s always been someone who’s been very kind and humble and genuine to me and I’ve always appreciated him and that authenticity.

ES: Do you know if Chad had ever met JJ or Tylee?

MP: I don’t know that.

ES: Have you ever had conversations with him about the children?

MP: I don’t believe I have.

ES: What was your last conversation with Lori like?

MP: My last conversation with Lori — I think we’re all in the middle of this mess, we don’t know where they’re at. We don’t know where the kids are at. Ian and I are newly married and our exes our conspiring against us to cause harm in our relationship to throw lies out. And my last conversation - 'Are you guys OK?' I think we...Lori’s a strong woman of faith and she’s always encouraged me to do so and she’s always been someone I look up to because of that.

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