Mudslide victim was known for Freedom County movement

Thom and Marcy Satterlee loved their home on Steelhead Drive for the quietude they found in the surrounding land and the nearby Stillaguamish River.

Marcy Satterlee, 61, enjoyed working in her garden or finding eye-catching river rocks. “She just loved the river,” said Thom’s sister, Debbie Satterlee.

The house was among the first to be destroyed by the massive Oso mudslide, family members said. It killed both Thom Satterlee, 65, and his wife and took the lives of their granddaughter Delaney Webb and her fiance, Alan Bejvl, who were visiting the Satterlees when the landslide struck.

A celebration of life for the Satterlees, Delaney Webb and Alan Bejvl is scheduled for Sunday in Everett.

Thom Satterlee was best known to the public for his ardent campaign to carve a new government he called Freedom County from a 1,000-square-mile area in Snohomish County.

His sister acknowledged he was a man of strong political beliefs. “He was very dedicated to what he believed in,” Debbie Satterlee said. “He felt people’s rights were being taken away from them and that the officials were not following the constitution of the state of Washington.”

State and federal courts consistently ruled that Freedom County did not exist, but Thom Satterlee claimed to be one of its commissioners, and Freedom County backers named as sheriff a retired FBI agent who called himself Fnu Lnu.

Disagreement with the government’s ability to decide what people could do with land they owned was the unifying belief of Freedom County supporters. Satterlee was particularly opposed to how Snohomish County went about implementing the 1990 state Growth Management Act.

Other parts of his life were never known to the public, such as his decision to quit high school at age 16 to join the Marines in 1966. “He lied about his age,” Debbie Satterlee said.

Her brother was sent to Vietnam and served as medic as the war intensified in the late 1960s.

Thom was 10 years older than his sister, Tamara Lenzen. She said that once when he was home on leave, he put on his blue dress uniform when she had him come to her elementary school classroom for show and tell. She remembers him shaking his head and saying he couldn’t believe he was doing it.

“Yeah, we had our differences,” she said. “But he was always a warm human being.”

Lenzen said her brother had one of the hardest jobs in the military. He would fly into battle zones in a helicopter and search for the wounded with a rope tied around his waist. “When he landed he would have to run out to soldiers who were shot and pick them up and bring them to the helicopter,” she said. “If the rope ended, he wasn’t supposed to go any farther. There were many times when he broke that rule because he couldn’t leave them behind.”

Satterlee was wounded while serving in Vietnam. When his mother went to visit him in a military hospital, she held a picture of him in her hand. A fellow service member who was walking by grasped the photo from her. “Is this your son?” he asked, adding that if it wasn’t for him he wouldn’t be alive.

It wasn’t until their brother was in his late 50s that he was finally diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. The treatment changed his life. “It was like, ‘Wow, I have my brother back,” Debbie Satterlee said.

Although his wife, Marcy, was as opinionated as her husband, she was quieter in her beliefs, Debbie Satterlee said. “Thom would get radical and she would say, ‘Oh Thom, you stop that,’ ” she said, chuckling at the memory.

Thom would often introduce her as “my better seven-eighths,” Debbie Satterlee said. “Marcy was very steadying for Thom.”

The couple had been married for more than 40 years. “Thom did whatever Marcy wanted,” she said. “Thom really did love his wife.”

Marcy was a painter, potter, crafter and cook, who enjoyed making rock gardens and had a quick wit, she said. “She was one of my dearest friends,” she said. “She was always, always there for us.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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