SPRING HILL — Brittany Saavedra seemed to have a knack for making friends with anyone. From the bigger boys with whom she played flag football to the smaller second-graders who ate up the attention from an older child.
Bright, bubbly and athletic, Brittany had no problem finding someone to have fun with.
On Sunday, Brittany's father dreaded having to tell those friends their playmate was gone.
"I'll have to tell them their buddy is missing," said Mitchell Saavedra, choking back more tears. "But those kids should know the door is always open if they want to come by and talk."
Brittany Saavedra, 11, died Saturday night after she was buried in the sand of a retention area near her Spring Hill home where she and some friends had been digging tunnels.
According to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report, Brittany and three friends were playing in a retention area in the 4200 block of Braemere Drive about 7 p.m. Saturday. Some children were digging tunnels in the sand while another was building a sand castle. Suddenly, the tunnel collapsed on Brittany and her head was buried in the sand, a friend told deputies.
The children spent about five minutes trying to dig Brittany out of the sand before calling 911, according to the report.
When emergency workers arrived at the retention area, they found Brittany buried in a hole almost 4 feet deep. They pulled on her legs until she was freed from the sand, according to the report, but by that time she wasn't breathing and was unresponsive.
Brittany was transported to Oak Hill Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 9:05 p.m.
For Mitchell Saavedra, his worst fears about the retention area — essentially a large dry pond — had come true.
"This is a parent's biggest nightmare … and it happened in a matter of seconds," Saavedra said Sunday. "We always told the kids to stay out of it and to not play in there. It's never been fenced and parts of it aren't maintained."
Throughout much of Sunday, Saavedra welcomed relatives, neighbors and friends to his home to remember better and brighter times. Some waited outside, others left messages of support on the voice mail and a few of Brittany's friends have starting working on a MySpace.com tribute.
Brittany, a fifth-grader at John D. Floyd Elementary, was the youngest of four children and the only girl in the house — an older sister lives in California. She enjoyed a variety of activities and a fair amount of normal childhood mischief.
Recently, Brittany started learning how to throw a softball. And she even teamed up with her 12-year-old brother, Andrew, to play on a mostly boys' flag football team. Despite weighing "75 pounds dripping wet," her father said, Brittany finished with 13 sacks and surprised a lot of opponents.
"She was wiry, fast and the boys would freak out when they saw her coming with those spidery arms," Mitchell Saavedra said. "It was priceless."
But Sunday, Saavedra could only wonder why his daughter's life had been cut so short. He also wondered why those retention areas weren't fenced off to prevent the very sort of accident he had always worried about.
"I'm not normally an advocate for stuff … but this boggles my mind," Saavedra said. "There's got to be a way to make those things safer."
Joel Anderson can be reached