LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. -- Ken Caldwell spoke through his tears Monday afternoon in the living room of his Lincoln County mobile home. He wanted to talk about his grandkids.
“I’ll tell you what, that’s one hardworking little rascal,” he said of 7-year-old James Caldwell. Ken remembered the last thing he did with his grandson.
“He was so happy. Had that paint all over his fingers, just really enjoying that,” he said. Sunday afternoon the two had worked on the backyard swing set.
Just hours later James was gone. He and his 6-year-old cousin, Chloe Arwood, were buried under hundreds of pounds of dirt.
They'd gotten into the 25-foot hole Chloe's dad had been digging for months, building an underground house, when their grandma yelled at them to get out.
Ken said of his wife, “She noticed they had got into that construction place and she told them to get out. They turned around to leave and at the same time it just collapsed on them and buried 'em.”
Nancy Caldwell was inconsolable Monday, not letting go of the teddy bear she plans to bury James with.
Nancy and Ken adopted James and his twin sister, Jazmin, when they were toddlers and have raised them as their own.
“Another place asked me what was the look on my face when I looked at my grand kids. I said pride and pain 'cause this hurts,” said Ken. “One instant they’re playing and having fun, you know? And they're gone.”
A heartbreaking 911 call quickly painted a grim picture of what rescue crews were up against Sunday night.
On the call, Jordan Arwood was heard pleading with a 911 dispatcher to send help.
"Please, please get somebody out here, my children are buried," he said.
Arwood was on a backhoe, working on the 25-foot-deep pit when dirt caved in on Chloe and James.
"Please hurry, the entire wall collapsed on them. Send everybody you can, I mean everybody," he said to the dispatcher.
Neighbors say he'd spent the last two weeks digging the hole.
The 911 call lasts more than 10 minutes and Arwood's pain becomes increasingly difficult to listen to as he desperately tried to get help to the kids.
"Can you see your kids at all?” the dispatcher asked.
“No I cannot. They're covered under maybe 10 feet of dirt. The entire wall collapsed on them," he said.
Rescue crews worked for hours, at times using shovels or just bare hands to get to the kids. It was 13 hours later on Monday morning when rescuers finally recovered their bodies.
Detectives spent Monday afternoon investigating what Arwood was building. They say he did not have building permits, and authorities confirmed they took several guns and marijuana plants from Arwood's home.
As a convicted felon he is not allowed to own guns. So far though, he does not face any criminal charges.
Several community vigils are planned for the children.
In a press release sent to media outlets, officials said their findings would be passed along to the District Attorney’s office to determine if charges will be filed.