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Why the Oso memorial matters: An agonizing search for a brother

John Hadaway's photo of the mudslide at Oso. (John Hadaway)

Steven Hadaway, 53, was a former Marine. He was a husband. He was a father. He was a brother.

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On March 22, 2014, Hadaway was a man working the wrong job at the wrong time, installing a satellite dish on the roof of nurse Amanda Lennick’s house. Lennick, 31, had just bought her first new home along Steelhead Drive.

Hadaway had been at the job for just over two hours when the slide hit at 10:37 a.m. He was almost finished.

In Puyallup, Steven’s brother John Hadaway, was enjoying the sunny day when he got a call from a relative, asking if he had heard about the slide in Oso. He hadn’t. John had never heard of Oso, but knew his brother lived in Darrington, so he sent him a text.

“(I) lost track of time. A couple hours later … nothing, so I sent him another text and then I sent my nieces a text. I sent my sister-in-law a text, I sent my other brother a text. Then I finally got a call from my other brother and he said that, ‘We think Steve’s in the slide,'” Hadaway said.

John Hadaway was out with search crews in the debris field the next day.

“It’s like a movie set. Nothing registers … nothing is … What you’re seeing is unbelievable. It’s like your brain can’t grab what you’re seeing,” Hadaway said.

“(SR) 530 was completely covered … and then the field, where the homes were just 80-, 90-, 100-foot mounds, and then everything we were walking on … The mud was like wet cement and oatmeal,” Hadaway recalled.

He worked alongside other volunteers and fire crews in the search effort, which he says could not have happened without the local logging community and the heavy equipment they brought in. But it’s their grace that sticks with him.

“I mean watching them with the excavators … it’s like their bucket was God’s hands. They were so gentle and they were going one foot at a time and then bring it over and shake it and the spotters were there. I mean it was a horrible thing to view, but something amazing that I hope I never see again,” Hadaway said.

That level of care was given from everyone involved in the search and recovery efforts. It’s something John will never forget.

“When they would blow a horn that means something or someone was found, so everybody stopped working,” Hadaway said.

On one day early in the search, he recalled a set of remains that was discovered.

“It was like a backboard and it was covered in a tarp, and they were escorting him out … like they were the most important person in the world.”

The man who was found on that day had a tattoo just like Hadaway’s brother’s. He had originally been told it may have been Steven, but it wasn’t. It wouldn’t be the last time Hadaway got his hopes up.

It would happen several more times in the seven weeks that Hadaway took part in the search.

Three weeks before Stevens’ remains were found, his work van had been discovered in the debris field. Hadaway asked to go through it so he could find any personal belongings of his brother’s but was not able to because the van had been crushed like a beer can from the force of the slide. Instead, Hadaway keeps a picture of the crushed van as the last thing he has of his brother’s.

There were 43 people killed in the slide that day. Hadaway’s brother, Steven, was the 42nd person found — the second to last — two months after slide.

Hadaway remembers getting the call from a firefighter, Brad, like it was yesterday.

“He called me, 8:10 a.m. Friday morning,” Hadaway said through tears. “He asked me how I was doing … and he said, ‘We got him.’ He said, ‘We got all of him.'”

Steven’s body was found on the Darrington side, far from the house on the Oso side where he was on the roof installing the satellite dish.

Lennick’s home was believed to have been one of the first homes hit in the slide. Lennick had only lived there for two weeks. She and Steven were killed along with two other men who were there working on the home.

In the seven weeks Hadaway was searching, he made lifelong friends, bonding with those going through the same grief and struggle he was. Whether it was the friendship he developed with Dayn Brunner, who was out in the search for weeks even after finding his own sister’s remains, or Seth Jefferds, the volunteer firefighter who lost his home, his wife, and his baby granddaughter in the slide.

The two men met at the Oso firehouse while Hadaway was searching for Steven.

“I told him I was sorry for his loss and he said the same. And somebody made him … like they smashed a penny and they made him a little coin that had ‘3-22-14’ on it. He took it off his key chain and gave it to me, and I said, ‘I can’t take this,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, we’re brothers now, right?'”

It is for those bonds, those friendships, and shared grief and loss that a new memorial in Oso is so important for Hadaway. But it’s about more than that.

“It’s going to honor the 43 people, the community, the search and rescue, the volunteers … everybody involved,” Hadaway said. “It’s not about one individual person. There are 43 lives that were affected, so many more people that were left behind. You’ve got all the firefighters that were out there. I will guarantee you that some of them have some bad dreams. This is hopefully a place that that can give them at least some piece, of you know, I helped.”

The Oso firefighters who refused to leave anyone in the mud
Finding Summer: A brother’s mission to get to his sister after the Oso slide

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