Wednesday, May 12, 1999


Los Angeles Times
Aaron and Cindy Bann hold their daughter
Alexis in this family photo. He was among
those killed Sunday at Sacred Falls; Cindy
was among dozens injured.

‘You can’t put
it into words’

The deep pain caused by the
Mother's Day landslide at Sacred
Falls touches many lives

By Christine Donnelly


A couple who came to Hawaii the proud parents of two will leave childless.

A toddler who will never know her father because he died saving her mother's life.

A 7-year-old Canadian boy who survived the cascading debris, only to see his mother perish.

They came to Hawaii as tourists do, seeking dream vacations, memories to last a lifetime. The holiday turned to horror in one thunderous instant.

"The grief, you can't put it in words," Chaminade University spokesman Peter Wolf said, referring to Len and Sheila Johnson of West Falls, Calif., who lost both their children to the Mother's Day landslide at Sacred Falls.

Their 24-year-old daughter Jennifer died Sunday and their 29-year-old son Mark, a radioman at Barbers Point Naval Air Station who would have graduated from Chaminade University Monday night, perished yesterday at Queen's Hospital. The parents were at his bedside.

Associated Press
From left to right: Siblings Mark and Jennifer
Johnson of California, and Master Sgt. Scott
T. Huling, who was stationed at Hickam.

Bedside vigil

"We were with our son at the hospital throughout the night. We believe he passed away at midnight, which gave him enough time to 'attend graduation' and then a 'celebration ceremony' afterwards, before passing on," Len Johnson said in a statement.

Chaminade, which awarded Mark Johnson a bachelor's degree in history and political science in absentia, plans a memorial service in Honolulu and will send someone to his funeral in California to present his diploma to his parents, Wolf said.

"That he was graduating from college was very important to his father, very important. It's why they came. There's no way we're just going to mail it to them."

The Johnsons planned to return to California today "and I don't think they're ever coming back," Wolf said, the tragedy erasing happy memories of just days ago. That was when Mark, who was about to be discharged from the Navy, took his family around Oahu, including a tour of the Chaminade campus. He took his sister to Sacred Falls, but the parents did not go.

Jennifer Johnson was a "really beautiful" young woman who was "always laughing and had lots of friends," neighbor Michelle Fryer, 18, told the Los Angeles Times.

"Life will never be the same" for her parents, Wolf said.

Associated Press
Among the dead are: Donna Forsch of Elk Grove,
Calif., shown with husband Michael, who
was critically injured Sunday.

The toll is tragic

His words are true of all the victims' families. Also confirmed dead were:

Bullet Teri Zerebeski, a 42-year-old psychiatric nurse from Sherwood Park, Alberta, who was vacationing with her husband and their 7-year-old son, Colin.

The family loved to hike, according to the Edmonton Journal, which also described Zerebeski as a devoted mother who arranged her work schedule at Grey Nuns Hospital so her son always had a parent around.

"Her little boy was everything to her," neighbor Ellie Pauelsen was quoted as saying. The boy suffered a fractured skull, but underwent surgery and was improving, the newspaper said. Zerebeski's husband was less seriously injured and was at their son's bedside.

Bullet Aaron Bann, a 31-year-old property manager from Placentia, Calif., who relatives said took the brunt of the falling rocks to protect his wife, Cindy, 31.

She remained hospitalized in guarded condition at Kuakini Hospital last night. The couple have a daughter, who will be 2 in June.

"He saved his wife's life there. When the boulders started coming down, he covered her with his body," said Bann's grandmother, Shirley Berko. Bann had just earned a master's degree in business administration from Claremont College and was in Hawaii to celebrate with friends.

Bullet Donna Forsch, 38, from Elk Grove, Calif., who with her husband, Michael, was celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary in Hawaii, where they had also honeymooned.

The two had been college sweethearts at Sacramento State University. Donna Forsch was a saleswoman at a mall and Michael Forsch, who was hospitalized in guarded condition, is a pharmaceutical salesman, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Bullet Danielle Williams, 7, the adopted daughter of Staff Sgt. Anselmo Desaavedra of the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron at Wheeler Army Air Field. Danielle had been a new student at Mokulele Elementary School in September but made friends quickly, according to Principal Richard Nosaka.

"She was a likable, sociable girl who liked to help people. She had lots of friends," Nosaka said. Danielle's mother and 9-year-old brother were injured.

Bullet Scott T. Huling, 36, a master sergeant at Hickam Air Force Base, whose whole family was injured. His wife, Kanya Huling, 28, suffered a broken arm. One son remained hospitalized last night; two other sons, 11 and 9, had minor injuries and were released earlier.

Huling, who served 16 years in the Air Force, was the branch's top first sergeant in Hawaii in 1997. A fund has been set up to for his family; donations to the Friends of the Huling Family Fund will be accepted at any First Hawaiian Bank branch.

Presumed dead and trapped in the rubble was 24-year-old Sarah Johnson of Hayward, Calif. Sarah Johnson, who was not related to Mark and Jennifer Johnson, had been sitting where the worst debris fell.

Star-Bulletin reporters Gregg K. Kakesako, Craig Gima,
Mike Yuen and Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this report.

Second-grade girl
touched hearts

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


A basket sits atop the desk that belonged to Danielle Williams in Marcy Kagami's second-grade classroom at Mokulele Elementary School.

When the friends in her class feel like telling Danielle something, they write letters and drop them in the basket, Kagami said.

When they miss her smile, they walk over and look at the picture on the basket.

"We do miss her," Kagami said, through pauses and tears. "We miss her a lot."

Kagami remembers Danielle as a generous girl, quick to hand a pencil or crayon to a fellow child in need.

"She was just a very loving, caring and considerate child," Kagami said. "She was always willing to help put the chairs down, she was always helping her classmates."

"She was a likable, sociable girl who liked to help people," said Mokulele Elementary Principal Richard Nosaka. "She had a lot of friends."

Danielle and her brother, Dorian, moved to Hawaii last year from Tennessee to live with her uncle and aunt, Anselmo and April Desaavedra, at Hickam Air Force Base. The uncle, a sergeant, later adopted them.

"She enjoyed drawing, and it was often detailed with a lot of color," Kagami said. "She always worked hard and had a very positive attitude."

Time has stood still for Kagami and her students since learning Monday afternoon of Danielle's death in the landslide at Sacred Falls.

"For our class, for two days, we spent a lot of time discussing her passing and how we're going to deal with it," she said. "We've talked about the grieving process and being able to express themselves and to cry if they feel like it."

Today, the class of 20 students goes back to a regular schedule. "I think that is important to the students, to be able to grieve, but then also provide a stable routine that they're used to."


Nathan McCotter arrived at the site of the horrific rock slide, looked around and realized that he knew the child wearing a Shaquille O'Neal jersey lying on the ground before him.

Only hours before, McCotter was complimenting the little girl about the jersey.

As a volunteer for the Sacred Falls Assistance Program, it's his job to greet visitors to the park.

McCotter told the little girl that he used to play pickup games with O'Neal when he lived in Orlando, Fla.

"She was in a lot of pain, my arm was holding her head up," McCotter said, adding that the girl was too weak or in too much pain to talk.

A few hours later, 7-year-old Danielle Williams' heart stopped. As many as 15 rescuers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation all the way down the narrow trail, a trek that took some two hours.

"They were able to keep her alive, basically, for over an hour after she stopped breathing," McCotter said.

Later, after more critical work was done, McCotter went back to pick up shirts, hats and other belongings that were left behind in the confusion to return to their owners.

He thought one of the shirts was red -- until he picked it up and realized the color was actually blood. McCotter left the scene that night unconsciously still clutching Danielle's jersey. Folded neatly, he took it home with him.

Last night, McCotter returned the jersey to Danielle's family.

"The reason I kept the Shaquille O'Neal jersey was I was able to hold it tight in my palm and I was sure I knew, 100 percent, whose it was," he said. "Thank God I was able to keep it through everything else I went through."

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