Aunt of Idaho teen missing with brother says their mother is 'unhinged'

The mother of the missing children, Lori Vallow, would not cooperate with investigators before fleeing to Hawaii with her fifth husband.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

The aunt of a 17-year-old Idaho girl who, along with her 7-year-old brother, has not been seen in months echoed another relative and court documents Sunday when she said she does not believe the mother of the missing children is in her right mind.

The search for Tylee Ryan and Joshua Vallow began in November when police attempted to conduct a welfare check on Joshua, who is adopted and has special needs, according to the Rexburg Police Department. The boy hadn't been seen since September.

The children's mother, Lori Vallow, and her husband, Chad Daybell, had never reported the children missing, and did not cooperate with investigators before leaving the state. They were found last month in Hawaii, and authorities gave Vallow until Jan. 30 to "physically produce her children." She did not.

Police said then that the couple did not face criminal charges, but could be held in contempt of court.

Tylee's aunt, Annie Cushing, told NBC affiliate KSL that she is concerned for the safety of the children, because she believes Vallow to be "unhinged."

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell.Freemont County Sheriff's office

Cushing's brother, Joseph Ryan, was Vallow's third husband and Tylee's father. He died of an apparent heart attack in 2018. An online obituary said Ryan was 59.

He and Vallow had divorced in 2004 after four years of marriage when Tylee was 18 months old, Cushing said. When Vallow moved with Tylee and her older son from a previous marriage from Texas to Arizona, Ryan followed. The two had a drawn-out custody battle over Tylee, according to court documents obtained by KSL.

It was in Arizona that Ryan died, but his body wasn't found for at least a week, only after his neighbor's dog detected a smell.

Vallow learned of her ex-husband's death, but failed to notify his family, Cushing said. Her family found out more than a month after he died because no one had claimed his body, and authorities tracked them down.

Still, Vallow asked Cushing to travel to Arizona to support her niece.

Cushing said she was surprised by Vallow's demeanor when she arrived. “When I got there, it was as if, nothing had happened. People were hardly talking about Joe and when Lori did, the tenor was — she would actually say, ‘The world is a better place without Joe Ryan," Cushing said.

She said Vallow discouraged Tylee from mourning her father, and Cushing observed the mother and daughter had a strained relationship. “There was also a lot of tension between Tylee and Lori,” Cushing said.

But Cushing's main concern was Vallow's mental well-being. She said Vallow, who was always religious, had become obsessed with end-of-times theories.

“There was one time where she was talking about it and she says, 'Sometimes, I think it would be better just to put my kids in a car and go off the side of a cliff.'”

Cushing told her daughter during the visit that she believes Vallow may be a "sociopath," texting "I think she’s unhinged and untethered from truth."

"To her, this was all a game. She had no empathy for the suffering anyone else was experiencing, including Tylee,” Cushing said. After leaving, Cushing vowed to never see her sister-in-law again.

Kay Woodcock, the biological grandmother of Joshua, and her husband have offered a $20,000 reward for information regarding Joshua's whereabouts. When Vallow didn't produce the kids by the deadline on Jan. 30, Woodcock called her a "monster."

"Lori's not going to make this easy. She's got an end game in her head — although this is not a game, obviously — she thinks it is," Woodcock said.

Rexburg police have said they believe Vallow either knows the location of Joshua and Tylee or knows what happened to them.

Police have also said that they believe the children's disappearance could be tied to an investigation into the death of Daybell's first wife, Tammy Daybell, 49. Her October death was initially ruled as natural, but has since been classified as suspicious, and her remains were exhumed so an autopsy could be conducted. Chad Daybell and Vallow married weeks after the death.

Vallow's fourth husband, Charles Vallow, also died last year. He was shot to death in July by Vallow's brother, Alex Cox, during a confrontation.

Vallow and Cox were questioned by police but not charged. Cox then died in December, The Associated Press reported.

Before Charles Vallow died, he filed for divorce from Vallow, claiming in divorce documents that his wife believed she was reincarnated and was a god sent to lead people during the second coming of Christ in July 2020, and told her husband that if he got in his way she would kill him.

An attorney who represented him during the divorce proceedings said in a statement that Charles Vallow had a "genuine fear for his life."

Other court documents, filed in Texas during Vallow and Ryan's custody battle over Tylee in 2007, revealed that Vallow was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after she told social workers that “death would be an option before giving Tylee to her father, Mr. Joseph Ryan, even for a visit.”

“These are real and serious concerns,” the documents said.