Paper lanterns of purple, orange, pink and turquoise took to the sky Sunday as more than 30 of Amanda Lennick’s friends and family gathered at Kennewick’s Columbia Park to honor her on the one-year anniversary of her death.
And while they sent the lanterns up, they shared laughter, hugs, tears and memories of Amanda, who was killed when her neighborhood was erased by the massive Oso mudslide on March 22, 2014.
When the fuel of the first test lantern resisted being lit, someone joked that Amanda was blowing it out.
Amanda — known to friends and family as Mandy — was one of 43 people who died when the avalanche of mud, clay and debris broke free from a saturated hillside and destroyed everything in its path.
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Amanda, 31, grew up in Kennewick. She graduated from Kennewick High School in 2001 and from the nursing program at Washington State University Tri-Cities in 2006. She was working at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett and had recently moved into her home on Steelhead Drive in Oso.
The lantern release was one of a number of memorials held over the weekend to remember the victims of the Oso mudslide, the deadliest in U.S. history.
The lantern memorial was an idea that two of Amanda’s longtime friends — Nicole Watt of Kennewick and Sarah Oss of Richland — had come up with. They originally planned the lantern release for Amanda’s birthday, Jan. 19. But the skies poured, making it impossible to send the paper lanterns up.
But on Sunday, Mother Nature cooperated, allowing the lanterns to take flight over the Columbia River.
Just before sunset, friends and family began to prepare the paper lanterns for their memorial flight. Songs played in the background as each helped unfold and set up the lanterns for their flight to the heavens.
The colorful miniature hot air balloons sailed into the sky in small groups. Before each lantern was lit, one of Amanda’s loved ones tied a tag to the frame. On each was written “In loving memory” with the name of one of the 43 slide victims.
The lantern carrying Amanda’s name was saved for last and received special care. Her parents, Jamie and Dennis Lennick of Kennewick, helped light it.
And they, Amanda’s friends and other family members huddled together, each touching fingertips to the circular frame of the lantern, holding it steady until hot air sent the balloon straight up into the deep blue twilight sky.
All eyes watched the lantern as it slowly vanished from sight.
Amanda’s parents described her as free-spirited and big-hearted.
Oss and longtime friend Kristen Johnson of West Richland remembered Amanda as responsible and generous.
Amanda always seemed to have a lot of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies on hand, and growing up often used them to pay for meals for herself and close friends, Oss said. She never asked or expected to be paid back.
“She was the woman who had everything together,” Oss recalled.
Blythe Lennick of Kennewick, Amanda’s grandmother, said her granddaughter knew what she wanted, even as a young child. “When she put her foot down, she meant it.”
She keeps expecting her granddaughter to pop up for a random visit like she use to.
“It’s just hard to believe she’s really gone,” she said.