Indiana girl, 7, buried alive playing in hole on south Florida beach

Indiana’s Sloan and Maddox Mattingly were doing what every child does when their toes hit the soft sands of a beach. They started playing and digging.

But the sand, at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea beach, took on a life of its own and swallowed the two siblings, claiming the life of Sloan, 7, and leaving her brother Maddox, 9, fighting for his life in hospital.

And now the children’s parents and loved ones are grappling with the “freak accident” that took the life of the “purest human being.”

In mid-February, Therese and Jason Mattingly packed their two children Maddox, 9, and Sloan 7, and escaped the chilly winter of Fort Wayne, Indiana to the sunny beaches of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida.

On February 20, before 3 p.m. the family was making memories at the beach, the children playing in a large sand hole near their parents.

And then, the family vacation left them with a memory nobody wanted.

“Everybody’s screaming,” cried a beachgoer, who after seeing people frantically digging through a hole, called 911.

According to People, the caller told dispatch, “There’s a child that they’re trying to get out.” The caller then explained she heard the children’s father “yelling for help because his child is caught in a hole in the sand,” and while she was on the phone, the caller said the mom began yelling, “My daughter’s in there.”

Both Sloan and Maddox were trapped in the sand hole, which was burying the siblings alive.

Attempted rescue

NBC reports that multiple emergency agencies arrived at the scene and used support boards to prevent the sand from further collapsing, along with shovels to dig Sloan and her brother from the large hole. It’s not clear how long they were trapped before being pulled out.

Both children were taken to the hospital, where Sloan later died.

Maddox was listed in critical condition and as of now, the progress of his recovery is unknown.

“A freak accident happened yesterday while we are here on vacation and it took away our greatest 7.5 years. Don’t tell us you’re sorry for our loss…don’t do that to us. We experienced the purest human being and we are forever changed by her,” writes her mom on the GoFundMe created to financially support the family. “We love you beyond any stretch of the imagination. Our sweet Sloan. What we would give.”

The GoFundMe, that’s raised almost $146,000 of its $150,000 goal, says: “What started as an amazing family trip quickly turned into the devastatingly tragic loss of their 7-year-old daughter/sister Sloan. We know that no amount of money will bring beautiful Sloan back, but your donation can help bring Sloan home from Florida, cover funeral costs and ease the financial stress as they learn to navigate their new world.”

Meanwhile, friends and family are pouring in with messages of love for the “sweet girl,” who “was SO much bigger than her last moments.”

Family friend, Whitney Kanjala, shares a photo of the family outside of Sloan’s Luxury Ice Cream shop in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Alongside the image on her. Facebook, she writes, “She was the funniest friend you could ever ask for, the most loyal sister, the [tiniest] yet most acrobatic…and one of the greatest creations Therese Mattingly and Jason Mattingly ever made.”

On February 22, Sloan’s father shared the same photo: “We took Sloan to this ice cream shop with her name on it. It was a rainy nasty day but we made the best of what we had. We also hit up a local arcade and sang makeshift karaoke at our Airbnb.”

Locals ‘devastated’shocked’

“I’ve lived here 50 years, I’ve never seen anything like that,” one local told CBS of the beach that currently has no lifeguards on duty. “I’m shocked. I’m absolutely shocked. I had no idea that digging out…something could happen where it could collapse underneath someone just hanging out and playing on the beach.”

Another local offered his own theories about the hole.

Speaking with NBC Miami, local Harry Defina explains that the children were playing in hole previously dug by a man, only about 30 minutes before tragedy struck.

“I was walking by the beach, and I saw a man…digging a really big hole…up to his chest. I looked at him and he looked back, and I walked away, I didn’t think to go over and tell him not to do it,” Defina said. “I’m even upset that someone would imply that those kids dug that hole. They didn’t dig that hole. It was massive and it ended up like 18-feet-by-6-feet.”

Struggling to hold back his tears, Defina shares what he saw when the kids were buried: “I see kids in the hole. I could see the boy a little bit, but all I can see…I’m not going to be able to finish this…all I could see was the top of the girl’s head.”

Police are still investigating the incident, which also prompted a warning from the American Lifeguard Association about the dangers of sand holes.

“The recent incident in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a heart-wrenching reminder of why we must work together to keep our beaches safe,” said Bernard J. Fisher II, the association’s director of health and safety. “By implementing these measures and fostering a community of safety and awareness, we can prevent future tragedies and ensure that our beaches remain places of joy and recreation for everyone.”

The association is advocating for increased beach patrols in areas known for sand digging.

RIP little one. It is so tragic that innocent children were doing something so harmless when something so horrifying happened.

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