Last fall, authorities began a nationwide search for 7-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, who mysteriously vanished from their small town of Rexburg, Idaho. In the months after they went missing, the case became increasingly more complicated—and bizarre.
This summer, police discovered the remains of J.J. and Tylee buried on the rural farm of Chad Daybell, who is married to the children’s mother Lori Vallow (she is Tylee’s biological mother and J.J.’s adoptive mother). No one has been charged in connection to their deaths, but Daybell and Vallow are both awaiting court hearings on felony charges of conspiracy to conceal evidence, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ELLE.com.
Ahead of their 2021 trials, Investigation Discovery is premiering Doomsday: The Missing Children (available to stream January 4th on Discovery+), a revealing new documentary featuring interviews with J.J.’s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock. Below, Kay opens up to ELLE.com about her continued journey to find justice for Tylee and J.J.
This time last year, I still had hope J.J. was alive. My 7-year-old grandson and his 17-year-old sister, Tylee, hadn’t been seen in months, but I wouldn’t allow myself to think the worst. I couldn’t—not until there was proof otherwise.
It’s a Christmas tradition in our family to give all the grandkids a new set of pajamas. So my husband Larry and I picked out a special blue pair with glow-in-the-dark sharks for J.J., just in case he was found and brought back home in time to open presents.
Christmas came and went, and J.J.’s gift sat in our living room unopened. Then, six months later, we got the proof we needed but never wanted: Tylee and J.J.’s bodies were discovered.
I used to want to know all the details about what happened. The hows and whos and, most importantly, the whys. Now I’m okay not knowing, because I don’t think I could live with the truth if I did. What happened to Tylee and J.J. was so horrific, so evil, that some days it still doesn’t seem real.
No one has been held accountable yet, but I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure their killer stays behind bars for life.
The last voicemail I have from J.J. is short and sweet. Most nights I fall asleep listening to it: “Hi! This is J.J. I was just calling to say I love you. Okay, got to go. Bye!”
When he was taken from us, J.J. was really coming into his own. His sense of humor got sillier by the day, and he loved to read. His all-time favorite book was Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Every photo I took of him turned out blurry, because he was constantly running, swimming, and riding his bike 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 dancing and acting and playing piano. She was sharp and quick-witted, always good for a sassy comeback or a witty joke. When my brother, Charles, and his wife Lori, Tylee’s mother, legally adopted J.J. from my son, Tylee fell in love with him right away. I’ll never forget J.J.’s fourth birthday party, when they filled up water balloons together and took aim at everything in sight.
For many years, they seemed like a happy family. It wasn’t until 2018 that Charles told us Lori was acting strange. Larry and I don’t like to be nosy, but it got to the point where we realized, “Okay, something strange must be going on.”
On July 11, 2019, we got a call that Charles had been found dead on the floor of their home in Phoenix, Arizona. Police officially announced that Tylee and J.J. were missing five months later.
[Editor’s note: Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, who claimed it was in “self-defense.” Alex was never charged and later died of natural causes, according to NBC News. J.J. and Tylee were photographed together with Lori and Alex while he was still alive in September at Yellowstone National Park, according to the FBI. By the time police began looking into their disappearances in December, Lori had remarried a man named Chad Daybell. At the time, Lori and Chad refused to cooperate with an investigation, according to a statement released by Rexburg Police.]
I’d never been so scared in my life. I prayed they were both alive. Maybe they’d gone off the grid? Or gotten lost? This might sound crazy, but I actually hoped they had joined 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 J.J. and Tylee even drove us to do our own investigating. We traveled the country speaking with Lori’s neighbors, investigators, police, and the FBI. But the more we found out, the more confusing it all became. Where were the kids? Who would kidnap them?
And why wasn’t Lori cooperating with police?
Days passed with no updates, and I started to lose hope. Back then, I thought the worst part of this unending nightmare was the not-knowing. Then Larry and I got the call. It was June 9, 2020, and an FBI agent told us they were searching the home of Lori’s new husband Chad with cadaver dogs and ground search equipment.
What they found made me sick to my stomach. It was more horrifying than anything we could have ever imagined. I was so wrong about the “not knowing.” This—this—was the worst part of our unending nightmare.
Everyone talks 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’s something like this. After giving J.J. and Tylee a proper burial in Idaho, I stopped having nightmares. But there’s still so much to do when it comes to getting justice.
[Editor’s note: No one has been charged with the deaths of J.J. and Tylee. Both Lori and Chad are currently in custody in Idaho awaiting court hearings on separate felony charges of conspiracy to conceal, destroy, or alter evidence, according to criminal complaints obtained by ELLE.com. They have pleaded not guilty.]
This fall, we had two hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Larry and I live. If you’ve ever evacuated your home during a natural disaster, you know the drill: Grab your valuables and get out. For me, that included J.J.’s shark pajamas—those blue, glow-in-the-dark ones we never gave him. “I’ve already lost J.J.,” I thought to myself. “I can’t lose these, too.”
Larry and I have since relocated to a new home—a fresh start of sorts for us. J.J.’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 has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.