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Mudslide Missing: One Nature Lover's Heaven Became Hell

Joseph Miller loved to photograph the natural beauty of his home. Five days after a mudslide, only the pictures remain.

The land his family owned behind the north fork of the Stillaguamish River was a refuge for Joseph Miller, who is missing and presumed dead six days after a mudslide obliterated part of a small Washington town.

When he was young, he used to go there and fly-fish, reveling in the nature all around. As an adult, afflicted with schizophrenia, he would periodically escape the tumult of town for the solitude of his father’s home, a double-wide motor home less than half a mile from the hillside that collapsed Saturday.

“My brother had just moved in last summer but he was getting ready to move out. His name came up on a waiting list to move into an apartment in Darrington next week,” his sister, Pamela Sanford, said Wednesday as her family waited for confirmation that Miller is among the dead.

She said her father, Reed Miller, 75, was on the same waiting list for an apartment and was planning to sell the home in the summer and leave Oso behind.

On Saturday, the elder Miller — a retired geologic engineer and mill worker — was in town buying groceries when the mud came roaring down. Joseph, 47, was still at home and hasn't been heard from since.

Authorities have asked the family for his dental records, but they don't know if his body is one of the 16 that have been recovered so far.

Recovery crews combing the debris field found 10 photos that had hung on the walls of the Miller home. Both father and son were avid photographers, and Joseph would sell his pictures at fairs and turn them into greeting cards that were sold in local shops.

The subject was nature, his lifelong passion. “Because of his illness, his life was really immersed in fishing and hunting,” his sister said. He would go out into the wilderness and return with game birds that he used to make stir-fries.

Flannery took a measure of solace that her brother apparently spent his last moments in a place he considered paradise.

“If there’s any way the gods could have taken him, this was the way. He’s one with where he wanted to be,” she said.

— Tracy Connor