Missing Idaho Kids' Mom's Religion May Factor Into Their Disappearance, Husband's Friend Says

Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, have been missing since Sept. 23, 2019.

Friends of Lori and Chad Daybell are speaking out about their religious beliefs as the investigation continues into the disappearance of Lori's two children, Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan. 

Both children have been missing since Sept. 23. Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell have been living in Hawaii and have refused to help police locate their missing children, authorities say. 

As part of a two-hour special on the case, Dateline NBC interviewed Benjamin Hyde, a friend of Chad Daybell's who says he served as a missionary with him for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Jersey 30 years ago. 

"The Chad Daybell that I know and the picture that I have of him is completely different than the Chad Daybell that's in the news right now. Completely different," Hyde told Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison.

Hyde said he believes Lori and Chad's end-of-the-world beliefs play a role in the children's disappearance. 

"I mean, imagine what you do if you had a god speak to you, you would start feeling a little bit empowered. And it looks like that's exactly what happened," Hyde told Dateline.  

In divorce papers, Lori's late fourth husband, Charles Vallow, claimed Lori had told him she was "a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ's second coming in July 2020," The Arizona Republic reported.

Lori had "become infatuated and, at times, obsessive about near-death experiences and spiritual visions," Charles Vallow said in court documents cited by the paper. 

Hyde said those beliefs could have played a role in what happened. 

"It's like, why would you stay in this mess of reality if the next life is better," Hyde told Dateline, before mimicking death by dragging his finger across his throat and making a gesture of shooting himself in the head. 

"Is this issue involved in this case?" Morrison asked Hyde.

"I think it is, and that's why I'm really afraid for Lori's kid," Hyde said. "I'd like to think they're on some kind of compound in a bunker somewhere hunkered down safe, but it doesn't look that way, does it?"

Charles Vallow's family has also spoken out about Lori's religious beliefs. Kay and Larry Woodcock are JJ's biological grandparents. 

In a Facebook post, Kay Woodcock wrote Lori was a "wonderful, loving, attentive mother" until "things started changing over the past 18+ months when Lori began spending all her time with a new religious group." 

Larry Woodcock agreed, explaining that Charles and Lori Vallow were both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But then Lori began to change. 

"The first six years, you couldn't ask for a better mother than Lori," Larry Woodcock told InsideEdition.com. "I can't tell you a date she got involved in this cult, but I told Kay two or three years ago I thought Lori was changing. There was something about her that was not the Lori we loved."

Lori started "to read some books published by [Chad] Daybell and listen to other podcasts and things like that," Larry Woodock said. "But up until that point, Lori was the quintessential mom: extremely athletic, loving, caring. You could not ask for a better mom. And then it all just went to hell in a hand basket, and Lori changed." 

One of Lori's friends, April Raymond, told Dateline Lori was "really fun, fun to be around, really positive, full of energy, full of life, really nice to me, really nice to my boys, just enveloped us really quickly into her life." 

Raymond said Lori had talked to her about the end times and invited Raymond to one of Lori's religious group's meetings, but she declined. 

"I know they were doing a lot of meetings and she invited me to some of them but I just didn't have any interest in participating in any way," Raymond told Dateline. 

Before they were wed, Lori and Chad appeared together on since-deleted podcasts distributed by Preparing A People, a media company with a mission to help "prepare the people of this Earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ."

The company has denied being a cult and said in December it was "shocked" and "deeply disturbed" to learn of the investigation into the children's whereabouts. 

"We also do not share any of Chad Daybell’s or Lori Vallow’s beliefs if they are contrary to Christian principles of honesty, integrity and truth, or if they do not align with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," owners Michael and Nancy James wrote on Preparing A People's website

Chad Daybell has published books about his faith and near-death experiences, as well as fictional stories set in an apocalyptic United States. In the description for another book of "true graveyard stories," Chad wrote he once served as a cemetery sexton. 

Chad Daybell's brother, Matt, issued a statement to EastIdahoNews.com in January urging Chad to tell the authorities where the children are.

"I have not been close to Chad since childhood," Matt Daybell wrote in the statement. "My immediate family has had little association with Chad the last many years due to our concerns with his religious claims and particular books he had chosen to publish, including his own.

"We are deeply saddened at the recent events that have played out the last several months," Matt Daybell continued. "It is our hope and prayer that JJ and Tylee are safe. We want for the truth to be found – whatever that truth turns out to be. Neither I, nor my wife and children have any more information than what has been reported by the news media. I plead again for Chad to come forward and cooperate with the investigation so that this very difficult situation might be resolved." 

An attorney for Chad and Lori Daybell, Sean Bartholick, issued a statement on behalf of the couple on Dec. 23. Bartholick said the sealed nature of the child protective action does not allow him to comment further.  

“Chad Daybell was a loving husband and has the support of his children in this matter," Bartholick wrote in the statement. "Lori Daybell is a devoted mother and resents assertions to the contrary. We look forward to addressing the allegations once they have moved beyond speculation and rumor." Bartholick also said that he does not have any information about the missing children. 

The Rexburg Police Department asks anyone with information regarding the children's whereabouts or welfare to contact the department at 1-208-359-3000 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST.  

JJ has brown hair and brown eyes, is 4 feet tall and weighs 50 pounds. He has autism and "may be in need of medical attention," according to authorities. Tylee has blonde hair and blue eyes, is 5 feet tall and weighs 160 pounds.