Skip to main content

Searchers find bodies of children buried by wall of dirt

By Lateef Mungin and Jackie Castillo, CNN
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Names of children who died are released
  • Sheriff: Children were retrieving small pickaxe from pit when wall collapsed
  • Children were playing at a home construction site and were buried when wall collapsed
  • Rescuers dug 24 feet and worked for hours to try to save the children

(CNN) -- Despite hours of feverish digging, their bare hands clawing at the dirt, rescue workers could not save two children who were buried by a wall of dirt that collapsed on top of them at a North Carolina home construction site.

The bodies of Chloe Jade Arwood, 6, and her cousin James Levi Caldwell, 7, were found at the bottom of a 24-foot-deep pit on Monday morning, more than 12 hours after a wall of the pit collapsed on them behind a family member's home, authorities said.

The children apparently were trying to retrieve a small "child-like pickaxe" at the bottom of the sloped pit when the dirt wall collapsed on them before 6 p.m. Sunday, Lincoln County Sheriff David Carpenter said.

The boy's father had been working on the pit with a backhoe that afternoon, Carpenter said. It was unclear whether he was operating the equipment when the wall collapsed in rural Lincoln County, about 20 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Rescue workers spent hours trying to save the children by hand, careful not to cause more disturbance.

Several thousand pounds of dirt had been on top of the cousins, Carpenter said.

"There are times when calls like this happen when we are not able to make a difference because it is outside of our realm," Dion Burleson, a spokesman for Lincoln County Emergency Management, said. "It is devastating not only to the family but to all the responders out here."

One body was found around 6 a.m. and the other was recovered about an hour later, authorities said.

'God will take care of them'

Carpenter said investigators weren't immediately sure what was being built behind the home.

Neighbors told CNN affiliate WCNC that the pit was a basement that was under construction.

A relative called 911 after seeing the collapse -- and an army of rescue workers massed at the mouth of the deep pit.

They began digging, using shovels and bare hands.

"It was a long process, but when you're dealing with that much weight on a child, you do not put heavy machinery in there on top of them to try to get them out. You have to take them out by hand," Burleson said.

Family members of the children, some of them kids themselves, stood nearby during the rescue effort as neighbors tried to console them.

"They kept saying: 'They have been down there too long without air,'" neighbor Cybil Johnson told WCNC. "That is what the little kids were saying up here. I told them, 'God will take care of them.'"

The effort proved daunting for the 75 workers.

A structural engineer was rushed to the scene to try to devise a way for searchers to look for the children without causing the deep pit to cave in and adding to the casualty count.

By late Sunday night, authorities had brought in heavy equipment to help stabilize the pit.

Crews then began the grim task of recovering the bodies.

CNN's Shannon Travis, Deanna Hackney, Jason Hanna, Adam Shivers and Maria P. White contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1459 GMT (2259 HKT)
For years, Morten Storm moved between two worlds. A radical Islamist turned double agent is lifting the lid on some of the world's best-kept secrets.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
What will happen to Scotland's business (not to mention its currency) if they vote to leave?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
The Ebola virus, very deadly and currently without a cure, is fast-spreading throughout the small West African country.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Go to any provincial city in China and you'd be forgiven for thinking the national youth pastimes are online gaming and flirting.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
ISIS has captured the minds of a new generation of global jihadists. What does it mean for al Qaeda?
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
ISIS has slaughtered hundreds. Now nearly 40 nations have agreed to take the fight to the militants. But what can they do?
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea calls its human rights a "superior system."
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
In Wenzhou, called the "Jerusalem of China," authorities have demolished churches.
Are you Muslim? What do you want the world to know about your religion?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1429 GMT (2229 HKT)
A number of Paralympic athletes in Ghana are hoping to use sport to change negative public perceptions.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT