SEFFNER, fla. – Piece by piece, the heavy machine gingerly retrieved fragments of a family’s home. Two antique rifles. Photos from the kitchen. Christmas decorations. A china cabinet.
Through early Monday afternoon, the work continued to dismantle the Seffner home covering a giant sinkhole that had swallowed a man alive.
Then the excavator fell silent. After hours of taking things away, it was time to put something back, to bury tokens of love before gravel buried Jeffrey Bush, 37, forever.
“I want to let him know I loved him,” brother Jeremy said. “I tried my hardest to get you out, bro.”
In the clawed hand of a long-armed excavator, Bush’s family placed flowers, a stuffed bear and an American flag.
Just four days earlier, he had cooked them a pork chop supper. He loved little kids, especially his 2-year-old niece. Had he not moved into his brother’s fiancée’s house two months ago, little Hanna would have been sleeping in the room that gave way.
As the family walked from the site, Hanna’s mother, Rachel Wicker, clutched a photo she intended to keep. But then something told her Jeffrey should have it. A cousin added it to the offering.
“He’s not going to have a casket,” she said. “We wanted him to have something.”
The metal hand lowered into the hole. It placed the memorial in the chasm.
The first loads of gravel followed, beginning the work of filling a sinkhole that turned the concrete-block home at 240 Faithway Drive into a scene of loss that gripped the nation.
Officials decided Saturday to tear down the house after deeming the area too unstable to conduct rescue efforts to find Jeffrey.
Jeremy Bush, 36, said he hopes the property will one day include a bench or tombstone so his parents can visit the burial site.
“My mom and dad are going through hell right now,” he said. “My mom is waking up every hour on the hour crying in bed. Nobody ever wants to bury their kid before they go.”
The nightmare began about 11 p.m. Thursday after Jeffrey Bush went to bed. No one saw him slide into the sinkhole that opened beneath his bedroom, but he screamed as he fell.
Jeremy Bush and Wicker rushed in. “We were this far from falling into the hole ourselves,” she said, holding up fingers an inch apart.
As Jeremy tried to rescue his brother, Wicker got their daughter safely out of the house and called 911. Wicker’s father and aunt also live in the home, but they, too, escaped.
For now, the family is staying at a hotel. “It’s hard to sleep,” Wicker said. “When I close my eyes, all I can hear is his screaming.”