The Washington Post

Body of the final missing Washington mudslide victim has been found


An undated family photo of Kris Regelbrugge, right, and her husband, Navy Cmdr. John Regelbrugge III. Both were killed in the Washington mudslide that hit in March. (Courtesy Greg Regelbrugge/via AP)

Four months after a mudslide ravaged a portion of Washington state, authorities announced Tuesday that they had located its final victim.

Rescue workers in Snohomish County found the body of Molly “Kris” Regelbrugge on Tuesday morning, offering an unexpected bit of closure to a search that seemed, in many ways, like it would never fully end.

“I’m humbled and honored that we are able return Kris to her family,” Sheriff Ty Trenary said in a statement. ““I’m also extremely grateful to the communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington who stood beside us these past four months in our efforts to recover all of the missing victims.”

The search through the mudslide had, at one point, included hundreds of people scouring a wide and treacherous area. The slide area was incredibly difficult to search, since it was both unusually large and particularly gnarly (with debris, mud, wreckage and dangerous liquids).

Although no survivors had been found since the day of the slide, workers continued to dig through the debris and search for bodies.


Workers wade through the carnage in the days after the slide. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

The active search through the mudslide debris was called off in late April, more than a month after the slide that killed 43 people and left a trail of devastation. When the search was called off, the bodies of two victims — Regelbrugge and Steve Hadaway — were still missing, so the official death toll remained at 41.

But even though active search operations were called off, workers continued to try and look through the debris field and seek clues. In May, workers found a body that the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed several days later was that of Steve Hadaway.

Relatives had been worried that Hadaway would never be found as weeks of searching turned up nothing. “We were thinking worst case scenario the whole time, you know?” John Hadaway told KIRO-TV about the discovery of his brother’s body. “And here he is complete. We even got his wedding ring!”

At one point after the slide, the list of people reported to be missing had ballooned to 176. Even though that number was revised as emergency workers located people and figured out what names were duplicated, the immediate days after the slide were characterized with a distinct lack of what we knew. We saw the destruction, we knew dozens of people were potentially dead, but the toll remained unclear as workers spent days navigating the challenging environment. The list of missing people shrunk and the death toll began to rise, but this process required days of searching, waiting and not knowing.

On Tuesday at about 8 a.m., four months after the slide first struck and in an area where things belonging to the Regelbrugge family had been found, search personnel finally located Regelbrugge’s body. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner has to officially identify her to bring the death toll to 43, but officials said that after four months of searching, waiting and not knowing, they believe they have found the final person they were seeking.

The body of her husband, Navy Cmdr. L. John Regelbrugge III, was found days after the slide.

Mark Berman covers national news for The Washington Post and anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and stories from around the country.

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