Oso slide search team tracks down teen who wrote inspirational letter




Posted on April 23, 2014 at 5:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 23 at 5:40 AM

Some of the search and rescue teams who flew in from out of state to help with the Oso slide are returning home.

But before leaving, one group from Phoenix had one more mission.

Phoenix firefighters Tim Steckler and Captain John Dean spent three long weeks recovering victims. The veteran search and rescue team said the mission was unlike any other.

"This is the first deployment where some of the local people and the relatives were part of the recovery, part of what we were doing, the extrication,” said Dean. “I would have never in a hundred years thought that would have worked or that was a good idea.”

Day in and day out, the crews forge ahead, physically and emotionally exhausting work.

"The dogs were cold,” said Steckler. “There had been many cases of hypothermia with the dogs/”

At Pacific Middle School in Des Moines, 700 students decided to write thank you letters. One of them was Ashley Robbins. In a stream of consciousness, the 14 year old penned a message of encouragement.

"I want to thank you for not stopping until you found that 4 month old baby,” part of her letter read.

"I didn't want them to give up,” said Robbins. “I wanted them to try as hard as they can to try and find the family members.”

A school volunteer took all those letters up to the slide area, and had them folded into the freshly laundered clothes of the search and rescue teams. Ashley's letter ended up on top of Steckler’s clothes.

"I needed a pair of socks. So I grabbed my bag and I found this letter in there,” said Steckler, who read Robbin's letter out loud to his crew mates. “That letter was very, very, powerful. It really got in my head.”

Her words moved them so much that before they left, they decided to stop at her school to meet her, and show their gratitude.

"I think it really affected all of us, and gave us an extra oomph we needed at that point that we needed to carry on,” said Steckler.

Robbins says she learned a lifelong lesson.

"I realize now that writing is so much more important than I really thought and it can change someone's life,” she said.