'It just happened so fast' - Parents of 7-year-old girl swallowed by Sand Hole in beach break silence about tragedy (VIDEO)

Thursday, March 14, 2024
 – The parents of Sloan Mattingly, the 7-year-old Indiana girl who died after getting trapped in a collapsed sand hole on a Florida beach in February are speaking out about their tragedy in hopes to save other families from experiencing such.

In an emotional interview, Therese Mattingly and Jason Mattingly told Good Morning America's Erielle Reshef that they remembered their bright and vivacious daughter "as a beam of light [and] joy."

"She just lived life," said Jason of his little girl, who loved unicorns and Taylor Swift. "She would come out in the morning and she would fist-bump right out of bed. She’d always be so happy."

Therese added: "She wasn’t into like, the big, ‘Take me to Disney.’ She was just like, ‘Come dance with me in the living room.’ So we did."

Sloan was digging for seashells in the sand with her brother Maddox, 9, during a family vacation to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea on Feb. 20 when the hole opened up, swallowing both of the siblings alive. Therese and Jason were right there and jumped into action, digging to save their children as the grains of sand engulfed them.

Jason recalled: "It was kind of a blur, and it’s probably maybe my mind protecting myself, but it just happened so fast. In my mind I had her in my hands, but the weight of the sand was too much."

"It didn’t matter that we were literally right there," said Therese. "It was just a hole and then it was nothing. And then it just becomes chaos and horror."

Others on the beach called 911 and helped to find the children in the hole several feet deep. Maddix was pulled out first, while Sloan remained trapped for more than 15 minutes before she was eventually freed. She was unresponsive and transported to a local hospital, where she later died.

Both Therese and Jason told GMA they felt like time stood still as they rushed to find their children.

"Everyone tried their hardest but unfortunately, it didn’t work out in our favor," said Jason.

"I’m sorry, I’m so sorry," Therese said, to those fellow beachgoers. "You witnessed our horror."

But the Mattingly family are hopeful that by sharing Sloan's story, it will help prevent other families expressing same as other families flock to beaches for the spring break season.

"You go to the beach you think of water safety, and this never ever once crossed my mind," noted Therese. "And of course looking now it’s like, ‘Of course.’ And so that’s where it’s really frustrating."

Experts say any hole dug in the sand should be no deeper than the knee of the shortest person digging it. But that message, or warnings about sinkholes, aren't often posted on beaches something Therese and Jason hope to change.

"And strangers, if you see something that’s dangerous, take the courage and say something," said Jason.

Watch the video of the interview below

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