Oso community is raising money for a memorial at the slide site

Mar 22, 2018, 2:30 PM | Updated: May 24, 2018, 2:35 pm

On March 22, 2014, people in the Steelhead Haven neighborhood were going about their normal routines. It was Saturday, so most kids were home. It was family time. Then at 10:37 a.m. a mudslide destroyed the neighborhood, killing 43 people.

Tom and Karen Pszonka lost three generations of their family; their daughter Katie and her husband Shane, their 4- and 6-year-old grandson’s Wyatt and Hunter, and Shane’s parents, JuDee and Lou.

Dayn Brunner’s sister Summer Raffo was driving along SR 530 to go care for horses when the wall of dirt, mud, and debris came barreling across the highway.

It was the deadliest landslide in U.S. history. It was also a shining moment for humanity as the Oso and Darrington communities came together to support each other and saw an outpouring of support from the state, country, and even the world.

Now those communities and families are looking for that same show of heart as they launch a fundraising campaign for the SR530 Mudslide Memorial.

Aerial photos of the mudslide

A temporary memorial, trees with pictures and favorite items of those lost, were planted six months after the slide. The memorial is located inside the Steelhead Drive gate.

The new memorial will be permanent, located where the neighborhood used to be. It will be dedicated to those killed and to honor the first responders who spent weeks sifting through the debris to find the remains of those killed.

“I think it’s first and foremost for the families,” said Snohomish County Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann. “It’s to memorialize their loss and to have a place where they can come and have some peace. I think it’s humbling that they have chosen to have an area of it that is dedicated to the first responders.”

Supporters say the memorial will also serve as a way to teach others about what happened.

“There were people who were very invested in the work, emotionally, physically, and mentally,” Biermann said. “There was a lot of work and a lot of people who were out here and it certainly established some strong bonds that will last forever.”

It will also be a place for the communities and loved ones of those lost to find peace and healing, Brunner says.

“It’s very difficult. I never thought that this would affect me the way that it does. It just literally consumes me. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this and that’s not a bad thing. I just miss her — a lot.”

Students send cards and letters to Oso rescue teams

“It is very difficult, still,” said Tom Pszonka at the site of the slide. “And I imagine it will never go away.”

The concept designs are nearly complete. Surviving family members have been a big part of that process. On Thursday, Snohomish County along with those family members, launched a fundraising effort for the SR530 Mudslide Memorial.

Organizers hope to raise $6 million to design, build, and maintain the memorial.

You can donate to the memorial effort at www.slidememorial.com.

“The first time we saw it, we were overwhelmed. We were all crying looking at it,” Karen Pszonka said at the slide site. “I think to be able to walk around there and see all this, it will make the site feel a lot better and look a lot better.”

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Oso community is raising money for a memorial at the slide site