Dennis Lennick locked eyes with his late daughter Amanda as he stared down at the hand-drawn portrait of her resting on his lap.
For a brief moment, the father and daughter were reconnected again.
The framed picture of a smiling Amanda Lennick is usually propped up at her parents’ Kennewick house. An American flag that once flew in her honor at the nation’s Capitol stays by its side.
The portrait comes from a snapshot Amanda, 31, took of herself the day she moved into her new house on Steelhead Drive in a neighborhood that would be erased by the massive Oso mudslide on March 22, 2014. The Lennicks like the drawing because it captures how happy their only daughter was that day .
“I think that was probably about the happiest day of her life,” said Jamie Lennick, her mother.
But the elation Amanda expressed to so many about the move would be short lived. She was one of 43 people who died when an avalanche of mud, clay and debris broke free from a saturated hillside and destroyed everything in its path. The dense mixture, which covered about a square mile, was so thick it took months for rescuers to recover all the dead.
Today marks the year anniversary of the deadliest slide in U.S. history and a day the Lennick family still is struggling to come to terms with.
The couple haven’t spoken publicly about the slide until now because the wounds of losing their free-spirited, big-hearted daughter still are so fresh, they said. The fact Amanda is gone and the sheer power Mother Nature exhibited that day are both equally unbelievable, they said.
Amanda — known as Mandy by friends and family — graduated from the nursing program at Washington State University Tri-Cities in 2006 and was working at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. She graduated from Kennewick High School in 2001.
Sometimes life for the Lennicks returns to normal as they both go about their jobs and daily routines. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the pain will sneak up and remind them of their loss, they said.
But despite their grief, they can still share laughs on their daughter’s birthday and tell stories about her soft smile. Family and friends plan to gather Sunday along the Columbia River and release 43 lanterns into the sky. Each will bear the name of a slide victim.
“It doesn’t seem like a year,” said Jamie Lennick, sitting next to her her husband on their back porch last week. “It seems like yesterday.”
Her husband agreed: “It still seems kind of impossible.”
The Lennicks may have been at their daughter’s home the day of the slide helping her move if it weren’t for a sleepover she had planned with friends. They had visited the picturesque property along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River just weeks earlier .
The home was exactly what Amanda was looking for. It was tucked away among tall trees and a bird’s-eye view of the river. The small community and its friendly neighbors made Amanda feel like she was in Montana, where her parents grew up.
“It was her little piece of Montana in Washington,” Jamie Lennick said.
Amanda’s close friend, Nicole Watt of Kennewick, stayed at the home the night before the slide. She, Amanda and another friend listened to music and enjoyed each others’ company into the night. Watt said Amanda was excited about the next chapter in her life and her peaceful new home.
Watt and the other friend packed up and decided to head back to the Tri-Cities about 9:30 a.m., taking just enough time to snap a picture from Amanda’s deck, Watt said. As the pair were leaving, a plumber, electrician and cable installer showed up to do to work at the house.
A little more than an hour later, at 10:37 a.m., the wave of mud roared across the Stillaguamish River and swept away the home. Amanda and the three workers — Bill Welsh, 66, Steve Hadaway, 53, and Stephen Neal, 53, — were killed.
Dennis and Jamie Lennick were coming back from an out-of-town trip when they got a call about the slide, they said. The couple turned on the news and saw the devastation. They looked at a map of the slide area that showed Amanda’s house, just a couple hundred feet from the hillside, in the direct path of the slide.
“When I saw the (map), I told Jamie, ‘There is no way. She is gone,’” Dennis Lennick said.
Watt was on her way back to the Tri-Cities when she saw news about the slide on Facebook, she said. She saw the highway close to Amanda’s house was flooded with debris, but it wasn’t until the next morning that Watt realized Steelhead Drive was affected. As the day went on, and repeated phone calls to Amanda went unanswered, the grave situation became more clear.
Watt thinks a lot about why she wasn’t at the house when the slide hit. She admits she continues to have survivor’s guilt.
Was it fate? Was it dumb luck?
Watt will never have the answer to those questions. But one thing she knows for certain, she says, is the pain of losing a friend she’s known since their days at Kennewick’s Park Middle School will stay with her for life.
“I’m still in disbelief that she’s gone,” Watt, 31, told the Herald. “I’m not sure if my mind or my heart will ever say she’s gone.”
It took a week for rescuers to recover Amanda’s body. She was the 15th victim to be identified. The Lennicks are grateful she was found so quickly when others weren’t recovered for much longer.
The body of Steve Hadaway, the technician installing the satellite dish at Amanda’s home, was not found until more than two months after the slide.
Search teams also were able to find Amanda’s driver license, about $7 in change and credit cards belonging to her. The Lennicks received the momentos in the mail.
“It’s kind of amazing they even came up with that,” Jamie Lennick said.
The Lennicks did not rush to Oso when they learned about the slide. They were too grief stricken. The couple returned to the area when President Obama visited the disaster site a month later.
The Lennicks met with the president privately and felt the support of the Oso community, they said. The trip, however, was emotionally draining. There were bodies that hadn’t been recovered and the realization Amanda was gone hadn’t entirely sunk in.
The family vows to return to the slide site one day, possibly this summer to sprinkle some of Amanda’s ashes in the river she adored. They know returning to the site will be an emotional time for the entire family.
“The trip over for the President was just one of those days that took it out of you,” Jamie Lennick said.
The danger of a massive slide was something Amanda and the Lennicks never considered when they saw the property, the Lennicks said. They were more concerned about the river overflowing and the neighborhood flooding.
The Seattle Times reported about a history of slides in the development where Amanda lived and potential safety risks associated with a larger slide. The Times cited a 1999 Army Corps of Engineers study on the hillside that gave way as having the “potential for a large catastrophic failure,” according to a report.
Snohomish County officials spoke out shortly after the slide, saying it was completely unforeseen and the area was considered safe.
Lawsuits have been filed by families of slide victims against the state, Snohomish County and a private timber company. One lawsuit, filed on behalf of 10 families, alleged the slide was not natural and a result of “actions and inactions” by the parties named in the suit, according to a Times report.
The Lennicks declined to talk about concerns that the tragedy was preventable, citing the ongoing litigation. They did say that Amanda was happy living in a community with neighbors that enjoyed the beauty of nature and looked out for one another.
“It was an old-fashioned community,” Jamie Lennick said. “(A neighbor) helped put up her mailbox.”
The Lennicks, Watt and other family and friends try and keep Amanda’s memory alive as much as possible. A scholarship in Amanda’s name has been set up at the College of Nursing at WSU.
So far about $50,000 in donations has been added to it to support nursing students who show a record of community service. The scholarship will be given to a WSU Tri-Cities student every year.
The outpouring of community support the Lennicks have received since Amanda’s death has been overwhelming, they said. People continue to donate to the scholarship fund and perform random acts of kindness, like the handmade quilt that hangs on a wall in the Lennicks’ home.
Emotions are sure to be high today as family and friends gather to remember Amanda. But it’s clear that the Lennicks are slowly healing.
A smile spread across Jamie Lennick’s face as she remembered her daughter and how much she would enjoy Sundays, spending time along the Columbia River with family and friends.
“I’m sure it’s going to be emotional. I’m sure,” she said. “But it will also be so good.”