(STANLEY, N.C.) — Investigators found several firearms and a marijuana plant inside the mobile home on the residential construction site in Stanley, N.C., where rescue workers found the bodies of two children buried under 20 feet of dirt after the hole they were playing in suddenly collapsed, said the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
Jordan Keely Arwood, 31, whose mobile home sat atop the construction site, is a convicted felon who is not permitted to own firearms, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said in its statement.
Arwood was operating a backhoe at the construction site when the hole caved in. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said it remained unclear as to why Arwood was digging the pit. He did not have building permits for the site from the Lincoln County Building and Grounds Division.
Lincoln County Emergency Services spokesman Dion Burleson told ABC News that at 6 a.m. Monday morning, rescue workers found the body of a 6-year-old girl at the bottom of a hole. One hour later, they found the body of a 7-year-old boy.
Burleson said the hole the children were found in was approximately 22 feet deep and 20 feet wide. He said the children were found buried below ground underneath a significant amount of heavy dirt.
The children were declared dead at the scene and were transported to the Lincoln County Medical Examiner’s Office, Burleson said. Officials told ABC’s Charlotte affiliate, WSOC-TV, that the children were cousins.
Rescue workers were called to the scene at around 6 p.m. Sunday evening when one of the children’s fathers called to report the accident. Burleson said the father said he had seen the dirt collapse on the children.
Two hours into the search, the mission switched from a rescue to a recovery, Burleson said, because there was no oxygen in the pit where the children were trapped. More than 70 emergency workers worked overnight to get to the children trapped beneath the dirt.
“Specifically, here in the Southeast, our soil has a lot of clay composition to it,” Burleson said. “This dirt is exceptionally heavy because of the density that it has.”
One fire official told WSOC-TV that the search was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. He said rescue workers only had a general idea of where the children were buried.
Burleson said he did not know what the homeowners were building, but the construction was at an early stage. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was investigating the cause of the accident, he said, adding that the family and neighbors were distraught.
“It’s actually really hard because you don’t see stuff like this happen really, it’s happening right outside your front door,” neighbor Chelsea Jones told WSOC-TV.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Emanuella Grinberg and Kwegyirba Croffie, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Ashley Strickland, CNN