Diligence, drier weather and the discovery two weeks ago of deep-buried debris led searchers Tuesday to the remains of the last missing victim of the Oso landslide, four months to the day after a mountain of mud swept away dozens of homes and killed 43 people.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said searchers found the remains of 44-year-old Molly Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge in a pocket of debris believed to have been the garage of her home, based on items identified by relatives.
Her body was found about 100 yards from the area where searchers March 25 recovered the remains of her husband, U.S. Navy Cmdr. L. John Regelbrugge III. The couple were residents of Steelhead Haven, a community of homes wiped out by the massive March 22 landslide, the deadliest slide in U.S. history.
Officials had called off an active search for victims in late April after 41 bodies had been recovered, but Trenary said community members, his search-and-rescue deputies and other volunteers never stopped looking for the remaining two victims, Regelbrugge and Steven Hadaway, who was on the job to install a satellite dish that morning. Hadaway’s body was foundin May.
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Two weeks ago, the sheriff said, searchers on the west side of the slide area found items from the Regelbrugge home. Using what the sheriff called “evidence-based search techniques,” they were able to identify an area to concentrate the search.
Tuesday morning, after digging “far deeper” than where any of the previous victims had been found, searchers found a mass of debris that Trenary said was believed to be the remains of the Regelbrugge garage. The remains were “at least” 18 feet deeper than where any of the previous bodies had been found.
“I’m humbled and honored that we are able to return Kris to her family,” Trenary said at a news conference Tuesday in Everett. “I’m also extremely grateful to the communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington who stood beside us these past four months in our efforts to recover all of the missing victims.”
The early search was hampered by wet weather and storms that made negotiating the debris field treacherous, the sheriff said. Drier weather since has firmed up the ground and improved search conditions.
The body was located at approximately 8 a.m. Tuesday south of Highway 530, which was covered for more than a mile by a debris field more than 70 feet deep in some areas.
The couple had five children, including two sons in the Navy and two daughters in college. A third son, who was living with his parents, had left the house for his job at a nearby lumber mill just before the slide.
According to friends and family, John and Kris Regelbrugge were an affectionate couple who adored each other and hosted countless bonfires for the neighborhood.
John was a 32-year Navy veteran and was the officer in charge of the Everett detachment of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.
Kris was a stay-at-home mom, former neighbor Debby Rule has said. John’s brother, Joe Regelbrugge, said Kris “had a great heart, a wide-eyed innocence. She was a lot of fun and a wonderful mother.”
“They were just great people,” Joe said. “When you walked into their home, you knew you were welcome.”
Telephone messages left with her family in Vacaville, Calif., were not returned Tuesday.
Even with the search for the victims now over, the recovery of personal items from the monstrous debris field continues.
Gary Haakenson, the Snohomish County manager overseeing the slide recovery effort, said that as many as 50 items still are being recovered each day as workers sift through the debris.
Some of the items belonged to the 43 people who were killed in the slide, and Haakenson said officials have been working carefully to clean and restore the items and return them to families in a respectful way.
The items are stored at an undisclosed location. Those who lost family or property have been invited to visit.
“Some have chosen not to. It’s just too painful,” he said. “Some have said, ‘We’ll do it later.’ ”
Some have made several visits.
“It’s a very, very difficult process for families to go through, to walk in there and see some of the belongings of their loved ones,” Haakenson said.
Information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press is included in this story.Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.