A father tearfully begged authorities to hurry to his house to rescue his daughter and her cousin, who were buried when the walls of a 24ft deep pit he dug on his property collapsed.
The bodies of the two young cousins, six-year-old Chloe Arwood and James Caldwell, seven, were dug out in Stanley, North Carolina, on Monday.
Jordan Arwood, 31, was operating a digger in the pit on Sunday night when the walls collapsed and he called the emergency dispatcher.
Arwood's desperate voice is heard on a recording released by the Lincoln County communications centre, 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 could not. "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.
After the bodies were recovered, sheriff's deputies removed firearms and a marijuana plant from Arwood's mobile home. Arwood, a felon who is not allowed to have guns, was convicted in 2003 for possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.
The father had been digging with a mechanical digger on the site on Sunday, Sheriff David Carpenter said. Investigators described the pit as 20x20 feet with a sloped entrance leading down to the 24ft bottom. The children were at the bottom of the pit retrieving a child-sized pickaxe when the walls fell in on them, Sheriff Carpenter said.
The sheriff would not say what Arwood was building or whether he had any professional help. He said investigators would be looking into reports from neighbours that Arwood had been building some sort of protective bunker. He said deputies would be speaking with county planning and zoning officials about any potential building code breaches at the site.
Andrew Bryant, a planner with the Lincoln County Planning & Inspections Department, said no permits had been issued.