Community members gather for the dedication of the Oso Landslide Memorial following the ten-year remembrance of the slide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

‘Flood of emotions’ as Oso Landslide Memorial opens on 10th anniversary

Friends, family and first responders held a moment of silence at 10:37 a.m. at the new 2-acre memorial off Highway 530.

OSO — Ten years ago, this place was a tight-knit neighborhood.

In a matter of seconds, it became a disaster site at 10:37 a.m. March 22, 2014. For many, it’s still a graveyard for the 43 lives lost in the slide.

Now there are more than just signs of devastation here.

The Oso Landslide Memorial officially opened Friday morning in a ceremony attended by hundreds. It’s meant to be a space for hope and healing from the deadliest landslide in U.S. history.

Snohomish County unveiled the 2-acre memorial, built at the site for $4.5 million. It’s dedicated to Oso, those who lost their lives, the survivors and the first responders.

“I lost our Steelhead community,” Gail Thompson told the crowd. “Why did I live and so many of my neighbors die?”

Just minutes before the slide, Gail Thompson and her husband Ron left their home in the Steelhead Haven neighborhood. On Friday, survivors, families and first responders surrounded her in silence. A 3,500-square-foot plaza overflowed with attendees, along Highway 530 about 11 miles west of Darrington.

Starting at 10:20 a.m., Darrington Fire Chief Joel Johnson and Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper read the names of those who perished in the slide, each accompanied by the ringing of a bell. Family and survivors briefly spoke about their loved ones and shared stories.

People bow their heads in prayer at the conclusion of the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People bow their heads in prayer at the conclusion of the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The permanent memorial “means everything,” Johnson told gathered media after the memorial ceremony, noting 9½ years ago the idea was little more than “chicken scratch.”

At 10:37 a.m. Friday, everyone bowed their heads for a moment of silence.

The silence lasted one minute, about as long as it took for the mud to engulf the neighborhood.

Then bagpipes broke in with “Amazing Grace.”

People begin to gather before the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People begin to gather before the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

In an interview afterward, Gail Thompson said: “My heart is full.”

Each year leading up to the slide anniversary, Ron Thompson “can feel it building.”

“We have to remind each other to breathe,” his wife added.

The fact it has been 10 years feels “unbelievable,” Ron Thompson said.

Each year, he makes a sign to hang on a gate at the slide zone.

“Remember the 11 survivors,” one sign says. “Grief is the price you pay for love,” says another.

On Friday morning, he put up the latest one: “Hope walks with the hurting.”

Gov. Jay Inslee and wife Trudi lay a bouquet of flowers at the Oso Landslide Memorial during the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Gov. Jay Inslee and wife Trudi lay a bouquet of flowers at the Oso Landslide Memorial during the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“Oso Strong” is not just a slogan, it’s a truth, Gov. Jay Inslee said. When tragedy happens, people “pull together,” he said.

Since the slide, the state has studied risks in the area, he said, in tandem with advances in lidar mapping around the state. Inslee ordered flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff Friday.

John Hadaway, who lost his brother Steven in the slide, hoped those in attendance would find some degree of peace from the memorial.

“I hope as you leave today, that you have some peace of heart, you have a place … that you can be with your loved one, your neighbor, your friend,” John Hadaway said. “And I hope it will give you some peace of mind and you can start healing if you haven’t already.”

Amanda Suddarth, who was pulled from the slide along with her 5-month-old son Duke, thanked those in attendance.

“Just remember to always tell your family you love them,” Suddarth said.

Darrington Fire Chief and Oso Fire Chaplain Joel Johnson speaks with the media following the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Darrington Fire Chief and Oso Fire Chaplain Joel Johnson speaks with the media following the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Julie Petersen, sister of slide victim Christina Jefferds, usually grieves by hiking at the slide site to get perspective on the land and its changes.

This year, she came to the memorial event.

“This memorial was built on (my sister’s) behalf,” she said. “And I need to honor that. All the effort and money and time people spent volunteering and coordinating.”

Petersen tied yellow ribbons to trees planted in remembrance of the slide victims. Yellow ribbons dappled the highway in the aftermath of the slide a decade ago, as a symbol of resilience and recovery.

“I feel like that’s very important for people not to forget, and not to take it lightly — and this can happen anywhere,” Petersen said.

After the slide, rescue and recovery efforts stretched on for months, ending on July 22, 2014, when the remains of Molly “Kris” Regelbrugge, the 43rd and final victim, were recovered from the mud.

People filter through the Oso Landslide Memorial after the ten-year remembrance of the slide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People filter through the Oso Landslide Memorial after the ten-year remembrance of the slide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Steelhead Haven residents still remember their neighbors fondly.

“Putting up a memorial that doesn’t replace the times that were there,” said Tim Ward, who was miraculously pulled from the slide. “But it gives you a place to go. And remember the times that were there.”

The memorial is “bittersweet,” said Dayn Brunner, who lost his sister Summer Raffo in the slide.

“This year, especially, especially this year, because it is the 10-year,” Brunner said. “And I have all the flood of emotions and feelings and the sadness of losing my sister all over again.”

Brunner was part of a committee that helped make the Oso Landslide Memorial possible. Family, survivors, first responders, county officials and others collaborated on the vision. A design company that specializes in memorials, MIG Portico, helped bring the project to fruition.

The Timber Framers Guild, a Rhode Island-based organization, helped design timber shelters. Tsovinar Muradyan, a Seattle-based artist, designed three sculptures for the memorial.

Community members gather for the dedication of the Oso Landslide Memorial following the ten-year remembrance of the slide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Community members gather for the dedication of the Oso Landslide Memorial following the ten-year remembrance of the slide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Around $5 million was raised to cover the cost, according to Snohomish County. The project also received grants from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, as well as the state Department of Commerce.

Construction on the memorial began in October 2022. Many options for the project were thrown around, Brunner said, including one for an even bigger memorial. Ultimately, though, he feels it turned out well.

“The permanent memorial is more than just having a symbol or a place to go mourn or reflect,” Brunner said. “It’s a place where my sister’s legacy is going to continue to live on. And it tells her story.”

First responders salute during a rendition of the National Anthem during the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

First responders salute during a rendition of the National Anthem during the ten-year remembrance of the Oso landslide on Friday, March 22, 2024, at the Oso Landslide Memorial in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

As the event wound down, many headed a few miles west for lunch at Rhodes River Ranch, where they usually go on anniversaries of the slide.

“It’s a big day for us, emotionally and mentally, because you can’t help but think about the people that we’ve lost,” general manager Bonnie Rose said. “And also you just want to get a hug from people that you might not see for a year.”

Rose remembers seeing some customers for Thursday all-you-can-eat fish dinner in March 2014. By Saturday, they were gone.

“I can still envision them at the tables that they were at,” she said. “I still see faces of people that we lost in such a shocking way.”

Rose recalled how after the slide, many called in the restaurant to speak about how they felt.

She said: “They would call and just want to talk to somebody.”

Aina de Lapparent Alvarez: 425-339-3449; aina.alvarez@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @Ainadla.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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