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Families hope Seattle fundraiser boosts Oso landslide memorial effort

Community members gather at the site of the Oso landslide to remember victims and dedicate a mailbox sculpture in their honor.
Geoffrey Redick
Community members gathered on the fifth anniversary of the Oso landslide to remember victims and dedicate a mailbox sculpture at the site, in their honor.

Dayn Brunner's sister, 36-year-old Summer Raffo, was driving down Highway 530 on the morning of March 22, 2014, at the precise moment a nearby hillside gave way.

“Within seconds, being on one side or the other of it, she’d have lived,” Brunner said. “She’d have got hurt, but she would have lived.”

Raffo and 42 others were killed in the massive landslide just east of Oso. Now, Brunner and other family members are raising money for a permanent memorial.

It’s been five years since the slide destroyed the neighborhood on Steelhead Drive. At its entrance now you’ll find some new trees and a sculpture depicting mailboxes. But the memorial committee hopes for bigger things: a parking lot, a plaza, trails for reflection, and plaques that tell the story of what happened and who was lost.

There are worries the story will be forgotten, because while it’s hard to miss the scar where the hillside gave way — streaks of tan where the dirt and rock are exposed — the slide area itself is beginning to change.

“There’s vegetation coming up, there’s trees coming up, there’s scotch broom coming up,” Brunner said. “Pretty soon, in about five or six years, you won’t even know what’s there other than that scar or that hillside that’s still exposed by the sand, clay and rock. We want people to know when they drive by there that this is where 43 lives were lost, and the lives of tens of thousands of people were turned upside down.”

Putting a permanent, park-like memorial in place is estimated to cost more than $6 million. The committee behind the effort has raised about $410,000 so far.

Brunner lives in Darrington and is on the committee. It’s still hard to drive past the site, he says. When he does, he looks at the tree stump that marks the spot where he found his sister’s body.

He knows not everyone likes the plans for the memorial. Some 1,000 people weighed in on the design, and he says it’s impossible to please them all. He also knows that the memories are still fresh and the emotions are still raw for many. But there’s a story to be told here, and Brunner says he wants people to know how the community came together after the tragedy.

“The response, from the world and the communities, and how we were so resilient and made sure everybody got out — I want people to walk away with that,” he said. “It’s a sense of sadness, but yet it gathered friends, enemies, families and everything together for those months of time.”

SEATTLE FUNDRAISER What: PNW Paradise Ball and Auction, a fundraiser for the Oso slide memorial When: Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Where: Seattle Marriott Waterfront Cost: $150 per plate More information:

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.