MONTECITO, Calif. - A recent discovery in the remaining mud from Montecito’s mudslides has given one mother and wife hope, as the first year after the disaster draws to a close.
Kim Cantin's son Jack and husband Dave were killed when a mudslide turned their home into a pile of rubble. Kim’s daughter Lauren was trapped in the muck and had to be rescued. Kim was seriously injured.
In happier times, Kim Cantin had sewed a quilt. It was inspired by a family photo showing Dave and Jack together while scuba diving off Catalina Island.
"I silhouetted that and I put that on as the focal point of the quilt. I named the quilt ‘first dive,’ " Kim Cantin said.
In December 2017 during the Thomas Fire, the Cantin family evacuated from their home. Dave grabbed two items as he dashed out the door.
“We took a couple of cars to Thousand Oaks and Dave was five minutes behind me, and he was five minutes behind me because he had packed our wedding portrait and he packed the quilt," his wife remembered.
Jack, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout, was never found after the tragedy. Jack and 2-year old Lidia Sutthithepa remain the two victims of the 23 killed in the mudslide whose bodies have not been recovered.
After she physically healed, Kim Cantin got to work with help from the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade to begin searching. She wanted to find her son’s body, and anything that might have survived her home’s destruction.
As she searched, Kim kept thinking about the quilt her husband had quickly taken during the evacuation just weeks before his death.
"When this all happened and we were looking for treasures, one of the treasures I really wanted to get back was this quilt I made for Dave," she said.
Almost a year after the tragedy, that symbol of hope, dirty and caked with mud, was found.
Contractor Ann Burgard has become known around Montecito as the good-natured woman who is skilled with a backhoe. As a member of the Bucket Brigade, Burgard has spent months helping to search the debris and mud, moving it out of the way for rebuilding, sifting through it for anything important that might be found.
On that day of searching in December, Kim Cantin was with Burgard who was using a shovel- the space was too narrow for her backhoe. Buried four feet deep, next to a fence, miles away from the Cantin home, was that symbol of hope.
“She just heaved up this massive ball of quilt that was so heavy she had to take a break because it was about 100 pounds," Cantin said.
It took a few moments for the importance of the discovery to sink in. Cantin began to break away the caked dirt, spreading out the quilt slowly and carefully.
“I noticed the checkered border, the black and white checkered border,” she said.
The quilt recovered from the mud is shredded in parts, frayed and faded. But the image of her son and husband, inspired by that scuba photo, remains.
"What was so amazing is that the silhouette stayed on, which was hand sewn," Cantin said. She considers the silhouette of the two, standing strong together, as a sign from above.
“I felt like it was a love letter from Dave and Jack. Kind of just somehow making sure that it was a Merry Christmas,” Cantin said, tears gleaming in her eyes.
Kim Cantin knows that even a year later, there are still many pockets of mud and debris in Montecito that haven't been searched. She believes her son and the other young victim were not swept to sea, but still remain buried somewhere in the debris field. She urges contractors and residents to use caution and care as rebuilding continues. "I believe they are still out there, if that helps us get to the two treasures we really want to find, I think it will help," she said.
Cantin remains committed to finding her son, so Jack can be buried next to his father.