NEW YORK — Editor's Note: This story was originally reported and published by KSL, an NBC affiliate station in Salt Lake City. You can read the original story here.
The aunt of missing Idaho girl Tylee Ryan spoke about the teenager’s disappearance for the first time since she and 7-year-old JJ Vallow were reported missing out of Rexburg, Idaho, in Sept. 2019.
Annie Cushing said her brother and Tylee’s father, Joseph Ryan, died of an apparent heart attack without anyone knowing and she doesn’t want the same fate for her 17-year-old niece.
Vallow and Tylee Ryan came from a blended family and until Sunday, only JJ’s relatives had spoken to the media.
Cushing said the last time she saw Tylee was in 2018, after Joseph Ryan’s death.
She said her brother’s marriage to Lori Vallow got off to a joyful start.
“They were just madly in love. I had never seen Joe that happy,” Cushing said.
Tylee was Vallow’s second child and Joseph Ryan’s first.
“My brother had never been married and he had never had a child, so he was over the moon,” Cushing said.
However, Cushing said the relationship soured and Ryan had a difficult, and at times, violent temperament. The couple divorced after four years of marriage in 2004 when Tylee was 18 months old.
Vallow would later marry Charles Vallow, her fourth husband, in Feb. 2006.
However, Cushing said she and Lori Vallow maintained a close bond, sending each other pictures of their children. She said they didn’t speak very often but “(Vallow) felt a lot like a sister.”
Ryan and Vallow had lived in Texas. Vallow moved to Arizona with her two children, Tylee and Colby, her older son from another marriage, after she married Charles Vallow.
Ryan also moved to Arizona to be closer to Tylee. Court documents indicated the couple had a long and bitter custody battle over Tylee.
Cushing said it wasn’t until her brother’s death in late March 2018 that she noticed a drastic change in Lori Vallow.
Cushing said Ryan died of an apparent heart attack in late March 2018. His body was found in his apartment after a welfare check when the neighbor’s dog detected a strange smell.
“It’s really sad that someone could die and go at least a week without being discovered,” Cushing said.
Cushing said Vallow was notified of Ryan’s passing but didn’t tell his family. She only learned of her brother’s death five weeks later because no one had claimed his body. She said officials ran a background check and called her brother.
Cushing said Vallow acted very casual about Ryan’s death.
“That really took me back, I thought ‘you knew and didn’t tell me?” she said.
However, Cushing said Lori asked her to visit Arizona to support Tylee.
“I decided to put my personal feelings aside about not being told about Joe’s death and I flew out there, hoping to connect with Tylee,” Cushing said.
When she arrived in Arizona, Cushing said she was shocked to find that Vallow discouraged Tylee from mourning her father’s death.
“When I got there, it was as if, nothing had happened,” she said. “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 also noticed Tylee and Vallow had a strained relationship.
“There was also a lot of tension between Tylee and Lori,” Cushing said, adding that Vallow didn’t allow the two to spend much time together alone.
Cushing sent several texts to her daughter during and shortly after her visit.
“I just couldn’t wait to get out of there,” Cushing said, “The place was so dark.”
“Our family called (Lori) ‘Lolo’ and I said I think Lolo might be a sociopath,” Cushing said.
Cushing said Lori had always been religious but became obsessed with end-of-times ideas.
“It’s like she wanted me to be afraid of the end times,” Cushing said. “There was one time where she was talking about it and she says, sometimes, I think it would be better just to get put my kids in a car and go off the side of a cliff.”
“It was absolutely exhausting. I dealt with so many lies, even with little things. I think she’s [Lori’s] unhinged and untethered from truth,” Cushing texted her daughter on May 24, 2018.
“That’s what makes me feel Lori was a sociopath. To her, this was all a game. She had no empathy for the suffering anyone else was experiencing, including Tylee,” Cushing said.
Cushing said she was so shaken that she decided to cut ties with Vallow after the visit.
“I just left exhausted from the constant campaigning [against Joseph Ryan] and Lolo’s out-of-control ego. But I feel trapped. I connected with Tylee but don’t want anything to do with Lolo ever again.” Cushing said in the text message thread.
KSL also uncovered court documents from Aug. 2007 of Tylee’s custody battle with disturbing information. A Texas court ordered a psychological evaluation for Vallow 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 stated.
One of Cushing’s biggest concerns was since Tylee was homeschooled, she doesn’t know the exact date of her disappearance.
“We know when JJ was last seen but nobody seems to know when Tylee was last seen,” Cushing said.
JJ was last seen in school on Sept. 23, 2019, the day before Tylee’s 17th birthday. Officials with the Rexburg Police Department said Vallow and her new husband, Chad Daybell never reported them missing.
Daybell was Vallow’s fifth husband.
Police noticed Tylee’s disappearance on Nov. 27, 2019, and executed a search warrant at Vallow’s new home in Rexburg, Idaho, during a welfare check on JJ.
Anyone with information about this case was asked to contact the Rexburg Police Department at 208-359-3000.
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