Funerals scheduled for children killed in cave-in at construction site

Children trapped, believed to be dead
Chloe Jade Arwood, 6, was buried alive in a residential construction site collapse
Chloe Jade Arwood, 6, was buried alive in a residential construction site collapse
James Levi Caldwell, 7, of Stanley was buried alive in a residential construction site collapse
James Levi Caldwell, 7, of Stanley was buried alive in a residential construction site collapse

STANLEY, NC (WBTV) - Funeral arrangements have been scheduled for the two children killed when they were buried beneath thousands of pounds of dirt at a residential construction site in Stanley Sunday night.

The arrangement plans were announced one day after the community gathered for a second vigil to honor the children. Local fire responders joined friends and family members for a the ceremony in memory of the children at Gold Hill Baptist Church in Stanley.

Emotions were as high as they were at a prayer vigil Monday night at AIF Church in Alexis.

"We loved on these kids, these kids were precious and we loved them like they were our own kids," said cousin and Sunday school teacher Darrell Buchanan.

Authorities on Monday say they still investigating the deaths of 6-year-old Chloe Jade Arwood of Gastonia, and 7-year-old James Levi Caldwell of Stanley.

"It's bad to lose one, it's really bad to lose two and on the other hand I'm grateful they don't have to go to heaven alone," said Ken Caldwell, the children's grandfather.

Family friends tell WBTV it will be several days before the family is ready to make funeral arrangements.

Officers interviewed 31-year-old Jordan Keely Arwood after the children's bodies were found in the rubble early Monday morning. They say Arwood was operating a backhoe at the construction site at a home in the 5800 block of Cedarbrook Court.

It is still unknown why Arwood was digging the 24-foot deep pit. The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office says the Lincoln County Building and Grounds Division did not issue a building permit for that location.

The children were killed when the dirt caved-in and buried them just after 6 p.m. Sunday.

Approximately 75 rescuers from four counties, including Charlotte, were called to the scene after a frantic 911 call from one of the children's father, who was working at the construction site and saw the cave-in.

After the second ambulance roared down Danny Grant's road, he ran to his neighbor's house. "We just jumped in the hole and started [digging] was massive amounts of was heartbreaking," Grant said. Grant has twin 4-year-old daughters and says he thought about them while frantically trying to find the two children.

During the 911 call, which WBTV is choosing not to air because of its emotional nature, the 911 operator talked  with a family member. She told the man to have someone standing near the road to point emergency crews in the right direction.

She also instructed the family to continue to talk to the children and to not stand on the cave-in so that more dirt wouldn't fall in.

Personnel searched through the night moving dirt in the large pit that was estimated to be 24-feet deep, 20- feet wide and 24-feet long, using shovels and climbing gear in an attempt to get the children out.

"Because you can't see the children, you can't estimate how far down they are," Public Information Officer with Lincoln Emergency Management Dion Burleson told WBTV on Sunday night.

A short time later, rescuers said it was a recovery mission.

At about 6:45 a.m. Monday, investigators set up a tent over the pit. Moments later, they were seen carrying a stretcher covered with a tarp. The stretcher was loaded into the back of an ambulance.

Neighbors at the scene Sunday told WBTV a man was in the process of building a house at the site. They said he was digging out a basement when a wall of dirt collapsed around the children. Neighbors also told WBTV the children were cousins.

During a press conference Monday, investigators said the children had been sent into the hole to retrieve a pick-axe when the dirt collapsed.

But a release from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office later said the children were playing in the pit when it collapsed.

Neighbor Jennifer Hensley says she knows the two kids. She and her son, 9-year-old Alex, watched from their front yard as emergency crews rolled in all evening.

"I told [Alex] let's just wait and make sure what happened and then we will talk about all that in a serious conversation then," Hensley said.

"Many in our community have felt the impact of this event. Included in those who have been significantly impacted are the very rescuers who worked so hard to free these two precious children," said Dion Burleson with the Denver Fire Department.

"The Lincoln County Critical Incident team of chaplains was called in to assist the family of the victims as well as emergency responders working on site," Burleson continued. "Many times our firefighters and rescue personnel are able to remedy the emergencies that they are called to. Incidents such as this are very difficult for responders to deal with due to not being able to make a significant difference in the outcome."

The investigation is ongoing.

Deputies removed several firearms and a marijuana plant from Arwood's mobile home earlier Monday. Arwood is a convicted felon and is not legally permitted to own firearms.

The funeral for Chloe Arwood will be held Thursday at the Bethlehem Baptist Church, on New Hope Road in Stanley at 4 p.m. The viewing is from 2 to 4 p.m.

The funeral for James Caldwell will be held Saturday at Revival Tabernacle Church, in Stanley, at 11 a.m. The visitation will take place from 10 to 11 a.m.

A memorial fund has been started at Revival Tabernacle in Stanley, care of "Arwood/Caldwell Children".

There is also a donation fund open at Bank of America under the name of the grandmother, Nancy Caldwell.

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