Searchers never lost hope that Kris Regelbrugge would be found

OSO — They seemed close, tauntingly so.

Clues to Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge’s whereabouts had been found in several forms: her driver licenses, her wallet, remnants of the family’s chicken coop and letters she’d written to her Navy commander husband when he was deployed overseas.

All had been recovered from the massive debris field left behind by the March 22 Oso mudslide.

Her presence seemed everywhere, yet the cheerful wife and mother of five grown children was nowhere to be found.

To sense she was so near, only to have the trail vanish, “that’s what was so disheartening,” Dayn Brunner said Wednesday.

The Darrington man knew firsthand about heartbreak. He lost his sister in the slide. Summer Raffo, 36, was driving on Highway 530 to a job shoeing horses when the slide swallowed her blue Subaru. She was found March 26.

Finding Regelbrugge — the last of 43 people taken by the slide that soggy Saturday morning in the Stillaguamish River valley — was not just important for the family. It was something the community needed, as well, Brunner said.

“I’m seeing a lot of people suffering from PTSD-like (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms,” Brunner said. “I wholeheartedly feel that having her out is going to help with a lot of that.”

On Tuesday morning, four months after the Steelhead Haven neighborhood was devoured, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue crews found a body they were convinced was Regelbrugge. New clues led searchers to the rubble of Regelbrugge’s garage, buried about 18 feet underground. It was much deeper than searchers expected it could be.

On Wednesday morning, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner confirmed the body was Regelbrugge, 44. Her husband, Navy Cmdr. John Regelbrugge III, 49, was found by two brothers and two sons in March.

The couple were at their home on Steelhead Drive when the slide hit. Their family couldn’t be reached Wednesday.

Even after the formal search was disbanded April 28, Brunner said he never lost hope that the final two missing people — Regelbrugge and Steven Hadaway of Darrington — would be found.

Sheriff’s office search and rescue workers quietly returned multiple times to look for them. They would call several local volunteers, including Brunner, who last scoured the dirt about two weeks ago. Hadaway was found May 22.

Brunner knew all of the 43 victims by name. Most he knew well enough for handshakes and hugs. Kris Regelbrugge fit into that category.

He often worked alongside search and rescue sheriff’s deputy Glen Bergstrom, whose home is not far from the slide. Brunner sensed the deputy’s determination. It meant a lot to the volunteers to see him there.

“I knew we weren’t ever going to give up,” he said. “I knew we were going to find her one way or another. It wasn’t a matter of if but when.”

Brunner’s mother, Rae Smith, had promised Regelbrugge’s children that the search would not end until their mother was found.

“We had to bring everyone home,” she said. “Nobody could be left behind.”

Locals had backup plans if the sheriff’s search and rescue ever stopped looking. First, they would have a fundraiser to give money to the largely volunteer operation to continue. If that didn’t work, they planned to go in on their own with heavy equipment.

Smith thought highly of Kris Regelbrugge. It was Regelbrugge who worked with Smith’s son, Anthony, on his schoolwork to make sure he caught up and kept up.

“If it weren’t for Kris, he wouldn’t have graduated,” Smith said.

At commencement in June 2013, Anthony, beaming in his graduation gown, walked down the aisle with friend and classmate Sara Regelbrugge, Kris’ daughter. He handed Sara’s mother a flower, a symbol of his appreciation and acknowledgement of her kindness.

Rae Smith’s promise has been kept, but she knows there will be rekindled feelings of pain for the Regelbrugge family.

“It is always bittersweet,” she said. “I was so glad she was found and that chapter can be closed. But it opens up wounds. You just feel your heart bleeding again.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Officials to test sanity of suspect in Everett crime spree

He allegedly tried to rob and clobber a transit worker, then fled and struggled with police.

Suspect sought in two Everett bank robberies

He’s described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with dark hair and a goatee, and may have a neck tattoo.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Two missing men found, one alive and one dead

The man found alive was found in an apartment across the hallway and taken to a hospital.

Darrington School Board dealing with upheavals

The crux of the controversy seems to be the superintendent’s job.

Alaska Airlines has selected destinations for new service from Paine Field. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines will fly from Everett to 8 West Coast cities

Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.

Train kills man who was trying to get off tracks in Monroe

The conductor said he attempted to stop after sighting the man, who’d been lying on the rails.

Most Read