Feedback
News
Deadly Mudslide

A Snapshot of How Those Killed In Mudslide Lived

Image: An American flag hangs from the only cedar post left standing at the scene of a deadly mudslide

An American flag hangs from the only cedar post left standing at the scene of a deadly mudslide, March 31, 2014, in Oso, Wash. Sofia Jaramillo / The Herald Pool via AP

A grandmother and her 4-month-old granddaughter, a 5-year-old girl looking forward to Girl Scouts, a Navy commander and a family from three generations are among the people positively identified as victims in a massive mudslide that crushed part of the town of Oso, Wash.

Another 12 people remained missing as of Monday.

Image: Image: (L-R) Summer Raffo, William Welsh, Sonoah Heustis, Christina Jefferds, Linda McPherson, John Regelbrugge III, Kaylee Spillers, Stephen A. Neal
From Left to Right: Summer Raffo, William Welsh, Sonoah Heustis, Christina Jefferds, Linda McPherson, John Regelbrugge III, Kaylee Spillers, Stephen A. Neal

Here is a look at the lives and loves of those who died:

A librarian for more than 30 years, Linda McPherson took pride in the fact that she finished more than 100 books last year. She and her husband, Gary, were reading the newspaper together on Saturday morning when the mudslide hit their home, killing her and injuring him.

The 69-year-old mother of two, who grew up in the area, also served on the Darrington school board for 17 years and was a regular visitor to the school where her daughter Kate is a special-education teacher.

“She’s a very giving person. She hated to see people who had a need, and she always wanted to help them,” Kate McPherson said. "She's an amazing person, and she didn't deserve to go."

John Regelbrugge III spent 32 years in the Navy, rising through the ranks until he was appointed commander in 2012. He was put in charge of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard just three weeks ago.

“He was a commander and would have made captain shortly, too,” his father, John Regelbrugge, told NBC San Diego.

A father of five — two of his sons are in the Navy — Regelbrugge and his wife, Kris, were supposed to be out of the house early on Saturday but decided to sleep in. They were still home when the hillside collapsed. Kris is still missing.

2:04

Regelbrugge's family had hope he would survive. "He's a strong man and committed father. If there's a way to dig himself out of this, he will," his brother Greg told NBC on Sunday. But two days later, three of the brothers found his body.

Christina Jefferds was an 18-year-old single mother when she had her daughter, Natasha Heustis. Two decades later, when Heustis had her own baby, Sonoah, her mother taught her everything she knew about being a good parent.

Jefferds, 45, who managed a dental clinic, told Heustis, 26, the first step was taking care of herself and she encouraged her daughter to go to a yoga class on Saturday morning. So Jeffereds was home alone watching 4-month-old Sonoah when their home was crushed by the mudflow.

Image: Sonoah Heustis
Sonoah Heustis, 4-month-old victim of the Washington mudslide, was confirmed dead along with her grandmother Christina Jefferds. Family photo via Twitter

"That little girl brought so much joy to her life," Heustis told NBC News.

Sonoah was remembered as a happy baby who loved to smile but had not learned to laugh yet. She was doted on by Jefferds and her husband, Seth, a firefighter, and Heustis took solace in the fact that she died with her grandmother.

"She’s with my mom," Heustis said. "And she’s in a beautiful place."

During the week, Summer Raffo was a janitor at the Darrington High School, but in her free time she worked as a farrier, indulging a lifelong passion for horses.

On Saturday, Raffo left the home she shared with her husband of two years and went to pick up some tools for a horseshoeing job at a family friend's farm that morning. She never made the appointment, and her family figured out she would have been on state Route 530 in the mudslide's path.

Raffo was one of 13 siblings, 10 of them adopted like herself. Her brother, Dayn Brunner, led relatives on a five-day search of the debris for his sister's car. "My mom wants to hold her one last time," he said.

On Thursday, Brunner helped a rescue crew extricate her body from the driver's seat of her blue Subaru. She was still wearing her seatbelt.

At least, he said, "she didn't suffer.'

Image: Top row, from left: JuDee Vandenburg, Amanda Lennick, Julie Farnes; Bottom: Alan Bejvl, Brandy Ward, Lou Vandenburg.
Top row, from left: JuDee Vandenburg, Amanda Lennick, Julie Farnes; Bottom: Alan Bejvl, Brandy Ward, Lou Vandenburg.

Bill Welsh, 66, came home alive from Vietnam, but he never made it back from what was supposed to be an easy job installing a water heater for a new homeowner in Oso last weekend.

Welsh, who was head of the electrical department at Whitley Evergreen, left his house in Arlington at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday to meet his friend Steve Neal, 55, a plumber. He told his wife of 43 years, Barbara, that he would be back by noon.

Authorities believe both tradesmen were killed when the mudslide obliterated the house they were working on. At least one other worker and the owner of the house are still missing.

"He's a fighter," Barbara said Monday, three days before his body was identified.

"He was always there for me. He was always there for everyone"

Welsh was a father of two. Neal, 55, was the married father of three children and had six grandkids.

"He was always there for me. He was always there for everyone," his daughter Caroline told NBC affiliate KING 5 of Seattle.

Five-year-old Kaylee Spillers was looking forward to joining the Girl Scouts. Her mom, Jonielle, a nurse, was going to be the troop leader and her dad, Billy, a chief petty officer in the Navy, had promised to volunteers.

She had wispy blond hair and a sweet smile. She rooted for her old stepbrother's football team. She dressed up as a tiger for Halloween.

On Saturday morning, she was home with her dad and her siblings: step-brother Jovon Mangual, 13, Jacob Spillers, 4, and Brooke, 2. Only Jacob made it out alive. Jovon's body was positively ID'd on April 3, as was Billy Spillers' body on April 7 and Brooke Spillers' body on April 8.

Kaylee's mother was at work when tragedy struck. Mid-week, she posted a message for her missing family on Facebook: "Billy and kids hold on I love you and we are waiting for you for as long as it takes stay strong honey."

Billy Spillers, 30, had moved to the Oso neighborhood two years ago from Seattle with his family.

Amanda Lennick, 31, of Steelhead Drive was a nurse who had just bought her first house in Oso along the Stillaguamish River. She was working on fixing it up, and had three workmen over on Saturday morning to put the finishing touches on the home.

Her mom, Jamie Lennick, told NBC News that she planned to see her daughter that morning, but realized the house was right in the landslide’s path.

Lennick's boss at Providence Medical Center in Everett said she was excited about having her own home. “She was telling me, ‘Hey I’ve got the house. I’ve moved in. It’s great,’” Norm McFarland told NBC affiliate KING5.

Joe Miller, 47, of Steelhead Drive lived in a double-wide mobile home with his father but was getting ready to move out, according to his sister, Pamela Sanford. Their father, Reed Miller, was out grocery shopping when the slide hit, leaving the younger Miller home alone. She said her brother enjoyed fly fishing along the Stillaguamish River when he was younger, and as an adult loved fishing and hunting. The land, she added, was “where he wanted to be.”

Alan Bejvl, 22, of Arlington, and his fiancee, Delaney Webb, were visiting here grandparents, Thomas and Marcy Satterlee, on Steelhead Drive the morning the landslide struck.

Thom Satterlee, 65, was a Marine in Vietnam, his daughter told The New York Times. “If anyone could make it, he could,” Andrea Hulme said. His body was positively identified by the county coroner April 1.

Satterlee was part of a group that sought to secede from the country over land-rights issues.

Bejvl’s grandmother, Ruvena Bejvl, told NBC News that her 22-year-old grandson was “very friendly” and dependable. She said the young couple had plans to see Webb’s mother later that day. “We still can't believe that he is gone,” Ruvena Bejvl said.

Julie Farnes, 59, moved to Steelhead Drive with her husband, Jerry, from the small fishing village of Cordova, Alaska, a year ago. The retired couple was joined by one of their three sons, Adam Farnes, 23.

Adam remained missing in the mudslide until Tuesday, April 1 when his body was identified. He worked at Mountain Lion Glass, KING TV reported.

Julie Farnes was active in her local Catholic church in Cordova, and was remembered for being “vibrant, bouncy, full of vigor and energy,” a pastor told the newspaper.

Jerry Farnes wasn't home when the slide hit.

Shelley Bellomo, 53, and her longtime partner, Jerry Logan, were killed in the mudslide, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner said. The couple lived together on Steelhead Drive, and Shelley Bollomo “loved living by that river,” her dad, Pete Bellomo, told The Seattle Times. She loved most watching bald eagles take flight there, he added.

Pete Bellomo described Logan as “an all-around handyman” who would help his neighbors with their construction projects.

Brandy Ward, 58, was a retired nurse with two grandchildren and five dogs, a neighbor told The Seattle Times. She was the ultimate “outdoorsy woman,” who grew vegetables in her garden and made jellies for neighbors.

Ward’s husband, Tim, 58, was rescued in the mudslide and taken to the hospital with a broken pelvis. He’s a fire commissioner in Oso and a worker at Boeing, according to the Everett Herald.

Image: Lou and JuDee Vadenburg | Ruthven
Lou and JuDee Vandenburg (on the far left and right) are the parents of Shane Ruthven. Shane, his wife Katie and their sons Hunter and Wyatt Ruthven are also missing. breakingskagit.com

Three generations of one family — who thought they had found paradise on the banks of the Stillaguamish River — perished in the mudslide. Lou Vandenburg, 71, a former Marine and retired state correction employee, and his wife, JuDee Vandenburg, 64, a former bar manager, had moved to Oso to be closer to their grandkids.

They lived in a trailer on the property of their son Shane Ruthven, 43, and daughter-in-law, Katie Ruthven, 34. Their 6-year-old son Hunter Ruthven, 6, who loved riding four-wheelers and relaxing by the river, had just gotten a new puppy, relatives told the Everett Herald.

Lon Slauson, 60, lived on Steelhead Drive and worked as a security guard at the Medallion Hotel in Arlington, NBC station KING TV reported.

He owned several properties in the neighborhood. They were bought by his parents more than 30 years ago, the station said.

Tom Durnell, 65, shared his Steelhead Drive home with his wife, Debbie, who wasn’t there at the time of the slide. Durnell had worked as a stage manager and carpenter for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as the Intiman Theater in Seattle, reported The Register-Guard.

On Facebook, he boasted about his growing family: “I have three daughters and two sons and while my investment in them is in love and wisdom rather than genetics, that suits me just fine. They have provided us with 6 granddaughters and 1 grandson and I’m sure they ain’t done yet!”

Gloria Halstead, 67, was with her husband, Jerry, in their Steelhead Drive home when the slide hit. Jerry's son Steve told KIRO that his Jerry and Gloria were retirees from Boeing. Gloria's body was positively identified April 3. Jerry Halstead remains among the missing.

Larry Miller, 58, had a summer home in Oso with his wife, Sandra, 64. The Everett couple owned Seattle Roof Advisor. Sandra remains missing. "They talked about that property like it was heaven," Larry's stepsister, Kathi Johnson, told the Everett Herald. "They were so happy to be there."