"He didn't even give the kids time to eat their sweet rolls -- each had a small bite on them," said the worker, Robin Leanne Snyder.
Powell, long a suspect in his wife's disappearance, killed the boys, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, as well as himself in a gas-fueled fire in a rental home near Puyallup, Wash., this month.
Powell did not leave any obvious hints about what happened to his wife. He had always maintained that she vanished after he took the boys, then 2 and 4, on a midnight camping trip in freezing weather in Utah's west desert.
Since the fire, authorities in Washington have discovered a comforter -- apparently stained with blood -- Josh Powell left at a storage locker. They found books and an unmarked map of Utah that Powell dumped at a landfill. And Utah detectives say tips have been flooding in.
Nevertheless, it's not clear they're any closer to finding Susan Powell.
Snyder, 53, said she oversaw the free continental breakfast for guests at the Comfort Inn in Sandy, about 16 miles south of where the Powells lived in West Valley City. When she showed up for work at 6:30 that morning, she said, Josh Powell and the boys were there.
"Charlie looked right up at me and he says, `Do you know what happened to my mom?' So I say, `No, what happened to your mom?"' Snyder said.
She never got an answer. She was called away to fetch coffee for guests, and when she came back, Powell and the boys were gone, she said.
Josh Powell kept his face down as his older boy spoke up unexpectedly, she said.
Snyder recalled the encounter days later, after Susan Powell's disappearance began to make news. She said she called a tip line set up by police, but didn't hear back at the time.
Last summer, she posted a note about the encounter on Facebook -- and it was somehow relayed to West Valley City police. A detective interviewed her about two weeks ago, just before the fire, she said.
The hotel in Sandy would have been generally on the way back from the area where Josh Powell said he took the boys camping to West Valley City. If Powell was at the hotel at 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2009, it's not clear what he might have done for the rest of the day. He didn't return to his home until 5 p.m. -- two hours after friends called him to say that police were at the house and that his wife was missing.
West Valley City police Sgt. Mike Powell, who is not related to the family, declined to discuss any of the recent tips, but said a team of detectives has been assigned to evaluate them.
"We do have a fairly good number of tips coming in," Powell said Tuesday. "It can be challenging, but it's fairly well-organized."
On Sunday, volunteers combed through more than 10 tons of paper at a Puyallup recycling center after detectives received a tip that Powell might have dumped papers there before the killings.
They found paperback books with his wife's name on them and a Utah map. An item described by detectives as a "testament" with Powell's name on it turned out to be a Mormon religious book, said Pierce County, Wash., sheriff's detective Ed Troyer.
The comforter at the storage unit tested positive for the presence of blood in a field test, but further lab results are pending.
More than 1,000 people mourned the boys at a public funeral Saturday in Tacoma.