Town mourns victims of mudslide

LA CONCHITA, Calif. – The three dark-haired little girls were known around La Conchita for linking hands as they walked to buy ice cream at the town’s only store. They were together again Monday when the hillside above them collapsed.

Firefighters who found the Wallet sisters before dawn Wednesday said it looked as if they had been sitting side by side on a couch.

The bodies of Hannah, 10, Raven, 6, and Paloma, 2, were pulled from the rubble just hours after their mother, Mechelle, 37, was found dead. Their father, Jimmie Wallet, last saw them when he left to buy ice cream, not long before the cliff gave way without warning.

In addition to the Wallets, La Conchita residents learned that three more neighbors had been killed: Christina Kennedy, 61, a construction worker and single mother; Patrick Rodreick, 48, a longtime resident and handyman; and Vanessa Bryson, 28, a singer known for a great voice and her dream of making it in the music business.

Bryson lived next door to Charlie Womack’s house, where the Wallets went in hard times. Womack, 51, had moved into a tepee in front of the house to give his room to the Wallets. He died of blunt trauma in the landslide.

The Womack compound had served as a community center. Friend and neighbor Scott Maben called it “the soup kitchen” because everyone was welcome.

“That house to me was the essence of La Conchita,” said Vera Long, whose home was spared when the landslide stopped 20 feet short. “The kids were always playing outside, running around. Jimmie would carry his guitar and they would follow him around.”

“They just glowed like little pixies running around La Conchita,” said Nicole Hart, 23, who grew up in town.

Jimmie Wallet dug alongside searchers for days through the deep mud burying the house. As they worked to find Wallet’s family, Maben said, he pictured his friend’s daughters “all in a little air bubble.”

When news of their deaths spread, friends remembered the girls for their distinct personalities.

“Hannah was kind of quiet, kind of artsy,” said Maben’s girlfriend, Whitney Bohlen, 19. “She liked to draw and keep to herself. But she had just started to come out of that withdrawn stage.”

Raven, she said, was energetic and beautiful. “She never had a dull moment ever. She would just run around shouting, ‘I love you all!’”

About Paloma, she said, “She was very funny and wise for her 2-year-old self.”

Bohlen, who is five months’ pregnant, was so close to Mechelle Wallet, she called her “Mom.” She said she turned to the stay-at-home mother for advice, consulting with her on midwives and childbirth.

“She was the strongest, most beautiful woman, just so Mother Earth, so in touch with life,” Bohlen said. An older daughter, Jasmine, 16, was not living with them at the time of the mudslide, she said. The Wallets, Bohlen said, were high school sweethearts who had grown up in Ventura.

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