Decades before she was arrested in the disappearance of her two children, Lori Daybell was a "quiet," "sweet" Southern California girl from a devout Mormon family who loved spending time with her cheerleading friends.
Now, those friends are shocked to see Lori at the center of a case involving her two missing children, JJ and Tylee, three suspicious deaths and a multi-state investigation. Bernadette Flores-Lopez said she met Lori when they were both 15 years old and became close friends.
"It's hard for me to believe. It's hard for me to even process that she did this," Bernadette Flores-Lopez told InsideEdition.com. "We all agreed that she just needs our prayers right now. That's what she needs. Regardless, she's not well. She's not well if she did something like this."
Lori was arrested in Hawaii Feb. 20 and charged with two counts of felony desertion of a child and misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstructing an officer, solicitation of a crime, and contempt, according to the Madison County, Idaho, prosecutor's office. She is being held in a Hawaiian jail on $5 million bail pending extradition to Idaho, which could happen early next week.
'She was a doll'
Flores-Lopez said it's hard to reconcile the Lori who has refused to publicly answer questions about her kids with the Lori she knew.
Back then, she was Lori Cox, a 10th grade girl trying out for the cheer squad at Eisenhower High School in Rialto, California. Flores-Lopez said Lori and the other members of the squad "clicked immediately" and became very close. Lori was the girl the team threw into the air, a position known as "a flyer." She was quiet but also "hilarious," Flores-Lopez said. "She had us laughing hysterically all the time."
"I just thought she was just a Barbie doll. She was a doll," Flores-Lopez remembered. "She was just really, really friendly, not overly friendly, but she was just really sweet. I was just so excited to get to know her."
The squad did a routine to Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to The Music," she said, and whenever the song comes on, even 30 years later, it instantly brings Flores-Lopez back to the team's trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain.
"It just brings [me] back that time we'd be on the bus and everybody would be having such a good time," Flores-Lopez said. "I just remember being joyful at that time."
Lori Daybell, then known as Lori Cox, and her high school cheer squad. Handout
Even though she and Lori had attended different junior high schools and "she was on one side of the tracks and I was on the other side of tracks," Flores-Lopez said, Lori treated everyone equally.
The squad spent a lot of time at Lori's house, where she lived with her mother, father, two brothers and two sisters.
"As a cheer squad, we were always at Lori's house. Her mom and dad let us hang out there. We used to swim," Flores-Lopez remembered. "Everybody was just so welcoming. They had a big family."
The Cox family were "very, very devout Mormons," Flores-Lopez said, and Lori would attend religious education classes in the morning before school.
"That takes a lot of dedication, in high school, to go before school started to seminary," Flores-Lopez said. "She never spoke about what it meant to be a Mormon or anything. I just know in her house, there was a giant book of the Book of Mormon."
Lori's parents didn't come to her cheer competitions, Flores-Lopez said, but that didn't seem to bother Lori. They were a quiet family and kept pretty much to themselves, she said.
When it came to dating, Lori "was a bombshell," her friend said, but she spent most of her high school years hanging out with her girlfriends.
"It's weird because it wasn't until our senior year that she even had a boyfriend. She was very much to herself and she hung around just the girls," Flores-Lopez said. "There was hardly ever boys with us. But in senior year, that's when she started kind of like branching out a little bit."
Lori was smart and got good grades, but when it came to what she would do after graduation, Lori's path seemed to be guided by her faith, Flores-Lopez said. She talked about attending Brigham Young University, a private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Being a Mormon—this is what I got from her—they already knew she was going to go be a missionary for a couple of years and serve," Flores-Lopez said. "She already had a plan."
After Lori graduated in 1991, she married her first husband, a boy from her high school, in 1992. But the marriage was short-lived.
"I know the boy was not a Mormon, so that might've been a cause of [the breakup]," Flores-Lopez said.
A photo of Lori taken by Bernadette Flores-Lopez during high school cheer camp. Bernadette Flores-Lopez
'She was just kind of a mystery'
Lori moved away from Rialto soon after her divorce and Flores-Lopez lost touch with her friend. But she kept in touch with Lori's younger sister and tried to reconnect with Lori, although she rarely got a response.
Flores-Lopez found Lori on Classmates.com about 10 years after they graduated and was surprised to find Lori already had a child, a son named Colby from her second marriage.
"I just wanted to say hi to her because I pretty much have been in contact with all of the other friends that I had on my cheer squad, except her," Flores-Lopez said. "And she was just kind of a mystery. She didn't want to be known at that time."
Lori would go on to marry a third time, to Joseph Ryan, and have a daughter, Tylee. Joseph Ryan died of an apparent heart attack in 2018.
After marrying her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, he and Lori adopted a son, whom they named Joshua or "JJ." Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori's brother, Alex Cox, at her home in Arizona on July 11, 2019. Cox himself died on Dec. 12.
Lori is now married to her fifth husband, Chad Daybell. The couple wed just weeks after the death of Chad's previous wife, Tammy, who was found dead at their home in Rexburg, Idaho on Oct. 19. The deaths of Charles Vallow, Alex Cox and Tammy Daybell are all now under investigation.
Chad Daybell has not been arrested or charged with a crime and both he and Lori have denied any wrongdoing.
Lori's children, Tylee and JJ, have been missing for more than five months. JJ was last seen on Sept. 23 in Rexburg and Tylee was last seen Sept. 8 in Yellowstone National Park.
'Her friends still love her'
Flores-Lopez, herself a mother of two, said it's hard for her to fathom that Lori has not seen her children for months. Authorities have previously said there is no evidence that either Tylee or JJ were ever on Kaua'i with their mother after they were last seen in September.
Flores-Lopez said she is praying JJ and Tylee will be found alive and that Lori hasn't harmed them in any way.
"I knew her as a sweet, sweet girl that just would never harm a fly," Flores-Lopez said. "A lot of my other friends, like, 'You just don't want to accept it. You don't want to accept it.' You're right. I don't want to accept, I don't want to believe it, because it's so hard to."
If Lori did harm JJ and Tylee, Flores-Lopez said, "she needs to fess up and she needs to face whatever justice has for her." But if they are alive somewhere, "Say it. Say where your kids are. Let them be. Let them have a fair chance in life. Let the healing process start with them."
But even after all that has happened, Flores-Lopez had a message for her old friend, too.
"Lori, look, you're not too far gone that prayers can't touch you. Her friends that knew her are praying for her, and thinking about her," Flores-Lopez said. "Her family and her friends still love her. I hope and pray she didn't do anything to harm her children."