‘I wanted to be a good mom, like my mom’

ARLINGTON — Natasha Huestis will always be grateful for a gift from her mother. That gift was time — the chance for Huestis to spend every day of her baby girl’s life as a stay-home mom.

Now the young woman has lost them both, her mother and her child.

Huestis’ 4-month-old daughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, and her mother Christina Jefferds, 45, were killed March 22 when the Oso mudslide wiped out the family’s Steelhead Drive home.

“I wanted to be a good mom, like my mom,” Huestis, 26, said Sunday. “I was living at home. My mom was letting me stay on maternity leave for longer than three months. She gave me such a great opportunity during those four months. I had Sanoah every day. I spent every day with her.”

And every day brought the miracles all new parents experience. Pictures of Sanoah show a sweet smile lighting up a round little face. “Isn’t she beautiful?” Huestis said. “She was just learning to roll. And she was teething, so we were waiting for her first tooth.”

Her baby’s first name is Hawaiian, and according to Huestis it means “mist in the mountains.” And Violet? “My mom picked her middle name,” she said.

While the slide took Huestis’ baby and mother, Oso volunteer firefighter Seth Jefferds lost his wife and granddaughter.

Jefferds and Christina Annette Huestis were married in 2007, but Natasha Huestis said her mother and stepfather had been together 20 years. Like her daughter, Christina had been a young, single mother. That was decades before the family settled near the Stillaguamish River.

The Oso firefighter was not available for comment Sunday, but Seth Jefferds said on Facebook last week that “Natasha and I would like to thank everyone for all the caring thought and heartfelt messages, all the support, donations of clothing, shoes, housing, food.” He thanked all the agencies and volunteers helping since the disaster. And he said he was sorry for not replying to hundreds of calls and other messages, “as we have been overwhelmed from this life-wrenching tragedy.”

When the hillside gave way, Christina Jefferds was baby-sitting Sanoah in the home they all shared. Huestis told NBC News that on the morning of the slide she attended a yoga class with her aunt and had gone to Costco. Her stepfather was also away from their home.

Christina Jefferds’ body was found the day after the slide, and she was among the first victims identified by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Huestis and her stepfather joined in the agonizing search for the baby, according to NBC News. Sanoah’s body was found Thursday.

Christina Jefferds, an Arlington High School graduate, worked nearly 20 years as an office manager for a Marysville dentist, Dr. Kelly Peterson. In a tribute on the website of his practice, Northwest Smile Design, the dentist described her as “a kind, gentle, soft-spoken person who loved people and deeply loved her family.”

In his daughter-in-law’s obituary, Peter Jefferds described Christina as “very charismatic, loving. A great woman.”

Huestis, who is staying with family in Arlington, graduated from Marysville Pilchuck High School and attended Everett Community College. She hopes to go back to school, perhaps to study nursing, with a goal of working with children.

“People have reached out to me that I went to grade school with, people I’ve known since second grade at Pinewood Elementary,” Huestis said. “And, of course, complete strangers. I can’t say thank you enough.”

As a teenager, Huestis worked in the Polo Ralph Lauren store at Tulalip’s Seattle Premium Outlets. Her manager was Kelsey Garka. “We lost contact for a few years,” said Garka, of Everett. “Since this tragedy we have gotten back in touch. I can’t imagine what she is going through.”

With her husband Greg Garka and other Arlington High School alumni, Garka is planning the OSO Strong 5K Walk/Run, a fundraiser scheduled for July 27 in Arlington. It will benefit fire departments in Oso and Darrington, Garka said. Long after the tragedy, she added, “we will still remember.”

Huestis once dreamed of traveling the world. She was in Hawaii when she became pregnant. “Everything changed,” she said. “I planned to be a mom, and I didn’t want to miss one step. I planned to home-school my daughter. I planned to be involved every step of the way.”

And now — what? Huestis is pondering ways to help others who have lost children. Struggling with the question why, Huestis believes it is beyond understanding. Her mother is with Sanoah, her only comfort.

Huestis said her mom was raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, but didn’t push religion on her daughter. “In the past couple years, she talked about God, and that things happened for a reason. Things right now are so unfair, but that’s the only thing that makes sense,” she said.

“To be honest, I just don’t believe this happened,” Huestis said. “And now, I don’t know what to do. Maybe just help people.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Help for family

There are two online fund-raising efforts to help the family of Natasha Huestis and Seth Jefferds:

www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/7n84/relief-fund-for-the-huestis-jefferds-family

www.gofundme.com/7s58tc

Kelsey Garka is helping organize the OSO Strong 5K Walk/Run, scheduled for July 27 in Arlington. It will benefit local fire departments. www.osostrong5k.com

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