"It was Armageddon early morning January 9, 2018.
Our family was awake, preparing to leave the house due to heavy rain. Dave (49), me (52) Jack (17), Lauren (14), and Chester (7), our loveable Irish Setter.
As my husband checked the garage he yelled ‘we’re taking in water in the garage!’ simultaneously he heard me yell - ‘honey, something really bad is happening!’’; as I looked out the living-room window to the dark night sky, the sky turned an ominous yellow.
I saw my husband tighten his hat string as he went to open the front door. Dave opened the front door – then, he slammed it immediately - yelling “BACK DOOR NOW!’ as he raced passed me - thru the living room out the back door.
Everything else seemed ferociously loud and instantaneous…
A huge wave of mud-river rolled into the house. I watched in horror as furniture floated toward me.
The current was so strong, it immediately knocked me off my feet. I watched Chester get killed by the mudflow. Dave was on the other side of the glass door to me. He was yelling for me to get out. My hand was stuck; the door would not open.
Everything was in that mud; walls, boulders, granite, furniture, all pounding on my body that was being violently tossed around like a rag doll. I was in a trash compactor, turned on high.
I woke up, injured, freezing and disoriented. As I came to, I wondered whether I had died. The rain hitting me and the spray bottle that lay on my chest told me otherwise.
I heard a roaring river on one side below me and saw electrical wires exploding in the near distance. From my mud-scraped eyeballs, I could barely see what looked like a decimated warzone.
I had traveled under the mud, not breathing, a distance of two football fields from my home.
Hours later, first-responders had arrived and heard my yell for help.
The magnitude of the event was unfolding as fireman asked me the ominous questions ‘what house were you? ‘who was in that house?” and, “where was it?”.
Still disoriented, I pointed my arm behind me over my head. Two Firemen, followed that direction 100 yards and then suddenly, they heard the faint whisper plea for help. It was Lauren, my daughter. She was trapped under half the house and entombed in 20 feet of mud. She endured that for six long hours fully conscious. It took two hours to free her. Lauren was ‘the girl’ in the rescue video shown around the world.
In the hospital emergency room, the nurse opened the door and asked: “is your daughter’s name, Lauren?” “Yes!”, I said. “They just rescued her...” she exclaimed. Those were the best words ever said to me. Those words though - were reserved for Lauren alone.
The next morning, they told me Dave, was found dead on Hammond’s beach. That is about 1.5 miles from our property where he traveled over streets, freeway, railroad tracks to finally rest on the serene surf line of Hammonds Beach. I’ve been told that the beach is Chumash sacred land. That gives me some solace.
Dave had an infectious smile and giving heart. He adored his family as we did him. Dave made an impact and got tremendous enjoyment as Montecito’s Troop 33 Scoutmaster. Even at 49, he was number four in the Baseball League team line-up because he was a strong hitter and great catcher. ‘A true gentleman’, his teammates would say. And, Jack, my beautiful boy was missing.
How can this be!? Jack was an Eagle Scout, straight-A student and active in the community; he co-founded the award-winning Teens on the Scene group, a teen-led community service organization. More meaningful was that Jack had a kind and giving heart. His friends admired his genuine friendship. He inspired others.
As I write this, Jack has not yet been found.
Who could imagine the unimaginable?
Twenty-three beautiful souls died that night, hundreds of other families impacted by destroyed or damaged homes -the devastation enormous.
My family was ripped apart, split in two. Lauren and I will never be the same. And, we will forever miss them. I choose to believe that we are still a family; Dave is taking care of Jack, and I, Lauren. We’ll be together again one day.
And, through this tragedy, we’ve experienced love and care from friends and this entire community… a stranger in CVS, saying “call me anytime for whatever you need’. The SBMS Teachers, NCL Moms, and friends who saw Lauren’s TV rescue; each rushed to the hospital to ensure Lauren did not wake up alone. Teen Sing Benefit raising $65,000 for disaster relief. Kenny Loggins’ mentorship of the teens illustrated how kids can help and make a huge impact in response to a tragedy. 3,000 Bucket Brigade volunteers, who tirelessly helped clear neighbors’ debris, clear the open spaces, and look for my son, Jack, and Lydia.
Selfless neighbors and businesses engaged to help. Contractors Ann Burgard (Building and Finishing) and Darrell Becker (Becker Studios) each have donated time, expensive construction equipment and effort to look for the missing children.
A kind-hearted group of once strangers - now gather often to look for my son – Catherine, Grant, Sheri, Darrell, Noelle, Anne, Denise, and others. Strangers are now friends. Even, store owners, greatly impacted by the Thomas Fire and Debris Flow sales loss, generously dropped off clothes for Lauren and I.
My son’s best friend hosted and led a sacred Chumash beach burial ceremony with Chumash Elders for Jack. This ceremony typically is reserved for ‘community’. That morning, we all were ‘Community’.
SBMS school headmaster, Brian, who met up with the search crew, looking for his prior student and friend. Anna and Lilli helped since first entering the ER. And, the many who made meals, offered shelter and rides when needed. The list is long - of human kindness shown.
If the unimaginable was going to happen, I’m fortunate it was in this amazing caring community. We have felt embraced and loved by Santa Barbara. That is helping our healing."