STANLEY, N.C. — The bodies of two children were recovered Monday from the collapsed rubble of a 24-foot-deep pit that was being dug with a backhoe by the father of one of the children on his North Carolina property.
Rescuers had been digging for cousins Chloe Jade Arwood, 6, and James Levi Caldwell, 7, since Sunday, when the girl's father, Jordan Arwood, called 911. Officials were on the scene near Charlotte within minutes but couldn't get to the children.
"We've been working a horrific scene here," Lincoln County Emergency Services spokesman Dion Burleson told reporters gathered Monday near the rural site.
The father had been digging with a backhoe on the site Sunday, Sheriff David Carpenter said. Investigators described the pit as 20 feet by 20 feet with a sloped entrance leading down to the 24-foot bottom. The children were at the bottom of the pit retrieving a child-sized pickax when the walls fell in on them, Carpenter said.
The sheriff would not say what Arwood was building or whether he had any professional help. The sheriff said deputies would be speaking with county planning and zoning officials about any potential building code violations at the site.
On Monday, sheriff's deputies removed firearms and a marijuana plant from Arwood's mobile home. Arwood is a felon who is not allowed to have guns. He was convicted in 2003 for possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.
When word spread about the disaster, neighbors ran to Arwood's house and began helping. On Monday, they were somber, saying they were heartbroken for the family. They said Arwood told them that it happened without warning and that he tried to grab the children, but they were just beyond his reach.
Neighbor Bradley Jones, who works in construction, said, "It was dangerous. There was nothing to reinforce those walls."