20601A-WFNZ-the-fan-Final2 35h_CBSSportsRad_1660AM

News Home

Crews Find Bodies Of 2 NC Children Trapped In Dirt

View Comments
(Photo by: Nichole Jaworski/CBS Charlotte)

(Photo by: Nichole Jaworski/CBS Charlotte)

Get Breaking News First

Receive News, Politics, and Entertainment Headlines Each Morning.
Sign Up

STANLEY, N.C. (AP/CBS Charlotte) — Authorities have reported that emergency crews have recovered the bodies of two children Monday morning, who were buried at a residential construction site in eastern Lincoln County.

Yesterday, two cousins, a 6-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy, were playing near a basement that was under construction near their grandparents’ house when they became trapped by a wall of dirt that had collapsed.

Underneath the wall of dirt was a 24-foot-deep pit with a sloped entrance. The children were at the bottom of the pit retrieving a child-sized pickaxe when the dirt fell on them. The rescue effort began shortly after 6 p.m. last night, when firefighters from four different counties began digging with shovels to try to locate the children. The Charlotte Fire Department also assisted in rescue efforts.

Four hours after the rescue operation began, emergency crews shifted their rescue mission to a recovery operation.

Crews worked through the night and were able to recover the bodies of both children early this morning.

Story Update (11:15 a.m.) – Investigators have identified two children who died after a wall of dirt fell on them at a residential construction site last night, in eastern Lincoln County.

According to WBTV, during a news conference on Monday morning, investigators have identified the children as James Levi Caldwell, 7, of Stanley, and Chloe Jade Arwood, 6, of Gastonia. It is believed that the children are cousins.

When local police and firefighters were first dispatched to the scene, it was believed that the children had been playing near a basement that was under construction near their grandparents’ house — when they became trapped by a wall of dirt that had collapsed.

Earlier reports had suggested that the children were at the bottom of the pit retrieving a child-sized pickaxe when the dirt fell in on them.

However, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the children were in the pit playing when the collapse happened.

Story Update (4:51 p.m.) – Authorities confiscated a marijuana plant and firearms Monday from a North Carolina property where a man was digging a deep hole that collapsed on two children, including his daughter.

The bodies of 6-year-old Chloe Jade Arwood and 7-year-old James Levi Caldwell were pulled Monday from a 24-foot-deep pit in the town of Stanley, outside of Charlotte.

Later on Monday, sheriff’s deputies removed firearms and the marijuana plant from the mobile home. The 31-year-old father 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 earlier in the day, Sheriff David Carpenter said. He would not say what was being built or if Arwood was doing it alone or had professional help. He did say authorities didn’t know of any permits that had been issued for the work or plans detailing the project.

He said his deputies would continue to investigate what happened.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Carpenter later said deputies had not yet interviewed the family living in the home but planned to follow up on neighbors’ reports that Arwood was excavating the two-story pit to build some sort of a protective bunker.

“They were so distraught we hope to be able to talk to them today and come up with some information on that,” Carpenter said. “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.”

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 said the children often played in the pit when the girl’s father was working there. Jones, who said he works in construction, said there was no structure to support the pit’s tall dirt walls and that he questioned the man about the hole’s depth.

“I told Chelsea not to go in,” Jones said, referring to advice he gave his teenage daughter, who babysat the children. “It was dangerous. There was nothing to reinforce those walls.”

Story Update (4/9/2013 8:45 a.m.) – It was common knowledge around a rural North Carolina neighborhood that Jordan Arwood was digging a two-story-deep pit on his property. Some said it was for a bunker and warned their children to stay out of it.

Now authorities are investigating after the rain-soaked walls of the pit collapsed Sunday, fatally burying two young cousins, including Arwood’s daughter.

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 Sheriff’s Office 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 morning.

Later 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.

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.

“They were so distraught we hope to be able to talk to them today and come up with some information on that,” Carpenter said. “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.”

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.

On the tape, Arwood said he didn’t know what happened.

“They were inside the hole helping to get something and the wall collapsed,” he said.

At one point, the dispatcher warned him not to put pressure on the dirt. But Arwood said he had to reach the children.

“If this was you and your children in the dirt, you’d be moving the dirt, too,” he said.

Arwood’s house was at the end of a gravel-covered road dotted with modular and mobile homes. It’s a tight-knit rural community where neighbors sit outside on front porches and look out for each other.

When word spread about the disaster, they 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 it happened without warning and that he tried to grab the children, but they were just beyond his reach.

It was no secret that Arwood was digging a two-story deep hole. Neighbors said it wasn’t unusual to see children in the pit when the girl’s father was working there.

Neighbor Bradley Jones, who works in construction, said there was no structure to support the pit’s tall dirt walls and that there was some concrete on a ledge on top of the hole.

In recent days, the hole was muddy from the rain. He said he warned his daughter, Chelsea, who babysits for the children, not to go in.

“It was dangerous. There was nothing to reinforce those walls,” he said.

Chelsea said Arwood told her that he was building the structure to “protect his family” — it was going to be a bunker.

“It’s so sad,” she said.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus