STANLEY, N.C.: A North Carolina man tearfully begged authorities to hurry to his house to rescue his daughter and her cousin, who were buried when the walls of a 24-foot deep pit he dug on his property collapsed.
Jordan Arwood, 31, was operating a backhoe Sunday night in the pit when the walls collapsed and he called 911.
Arwood’s desperate voice is heard on a recording released by the Lincoln County communications center on Monday, when the children’s bodies were recovered.
“Please hurry ... My children are buried under tons of dirt ... They’re buried under tons of clay ... It fell on top of them,” he said sobbing.
When the dispatcher asked him if he could see the children, Arwood said he couldn’t.
“The entire wall collapsed on them. Get a crane. Get a bulldozer. Get anything you can, please,” he said. “There’s no way they can breathe.”
As the dispatcher began encouraging him — and with people wailing in the background — Arwood began praying.
“Lord lift this dirt up off these children ... so the children will be alive and well ... I have to get my kids. Lord, please,” he said.
The bodies of the two young cousins, 6-year-old Chloe Jade Arwood and 7-year-old James Levi Caldwell, were dug out Monday.
Later 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.
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 pickaxe 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. He did say that investigators would be looking into reports from neighbors that Arwood had been building some sort of protective bunker.
“It’s a very large hole. It would look to be something like that, but I don’t know. ... We’re going to find out exactly what his intentions were,” Carpenter said.
He said deputies would be speaking with county planning and zoning officials about any potential building code violations at the site.
Andrew Bryant, a planner with the Lincoln County Planning & Inspections Department, said no permits had been issued.
Neighbor Bradley Jones, who works in construction, said there was no structure to support the pit’s tall dirt walls.
In recent days, the hole was muddy from the rain. He said he warned his daughter, Chelsea, who baby-sat the children, not to go in.
“It was dangerous. There was nothing to reinforce those walls,” he said.