Jeffrey Bush disappeared into the earth without a trace.
No body for the family to bury. Even his bedroom furniture and belongings were sucked into the ground when a sinkhole opened last month under the Seffner, Fla., home where he slept.
The fact that rescue workers were unable to retrieve his body has made the rare incident infinitely more painful for the family, brother Jeremy Bush said. Rescue teams from Hillsborough County at the time deemed the ground too unstable to attempt a rescue or retrieve the body and instead filled the hole with gravel.
"They did nothing," said Jeremy Bush, 36, who jumped into the sinkhole minutes after it opened to try to retrieve his brother. "They just left him there."
On the night of Feb. 28, after hearing a loud crash, Jeremy Bush ran to one of the bedrooms to see a deep, dirt-covered hole, about 20 feet across, where his brother was sleeping just moments before, he said. He jumped into the hole and clawed through the dirt searching for his brother. The hole was as deep as he is tall. He could see the house's plumbing poking out beneath the floor, he said.
Within minutes, a sheriff's deputy arrived and helped pull him from the hole, telling him the ground was still crumbling around them, Jeremy Bush said. They ran out of the home. No one ever went inside again, he said.
As the family watched from the street, engineers lowered a microphone into the hole to try to pick up signs of Jeffrey Bush. But a second collapse rattled the foundation and sucked the equipment into the hole, Jeremy Bush said.
After more tests the next day, engineers deemed the property too dangerous for rescue or recovery, said Willie Puz, a Hillsborough County spokesman. The engineers "advised us that additional collapses could happen at any time and it was an unsafe scene," he said. "We made our decisions based off that."
Tearful family members placed flowers and a teddy bear in front of the home, saying their final goodbyes to Jeffrey Bush. The house was demolished and the hole filled in with four truckloads of gravel, essentially creating his grave.
It's not the first time disaster victims have been left underground. The bodies of dozens of miners have been left behind in the wake of mine explosions or collapses in recent decades when the mines became too treacherous for rescue workers, said Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer at George Washington University who has been involved in mine disaster investigations.
An explosion at the Farmington Mine in West Virginia in 1968 left 78 miners dead, including 19 whose bodies were never recovered, she said. In Utah in 2007, the bodies of six miners were forever entombed after they were trapped by a collapse. The decision to leave bodies behind is a difficult one for the families, as well as emergency management personnel, Monforton said.
"It's a choice of putting lives of rescuers in danger or retrieving a body," she said. "More often than not, they're going to err on the side of those still alive."
Sinkholes of the type that killed Jeffrey Bush present even thornier problems: water beneath the surface could further collapse the ground where rescue teams are staging, said Audrey Casserleigh, director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program at Florida State University.
"When miners are trapped, they're standing on solid ground," she said. Sinkhole rescues "would be akin to trying to dive through quicksand to get to someone."
The home's owner, Buddy Wicker, said he was advised by county officials of every step of the recovery effort and was told of the decision to raze his home. He agreed.
"It was hard. There was a man down there," Wicker said. "But we didn't want anyone else dead in that house. We already lost one person. Why lose more?"
Wicker said county officials told him they believed the body of Jeffrey Bush, who had lived in the house since January, had been sucked into the water table beneath the surface and could later flush out into the nearby Alafia River.
But the likelihood of that happening is slim, said Philip van Beynen, a University of South Florida environmental scientist who has studied sinkholes. More likely, Jeffery Bush's body sunk into a 60-foot-tall water-filled void between the sinkhole and the bedrock and is trapped in sediment, he said.
The body likely has sunk much deeper than the gravel pit seen from the street, he said. Attempting to retrieve it would have been unwise, if not impossible, as the ground around the hole could have quickly collapsed as well, van Beynen said. "It would be extraordinarily difficult and incredibly expensive," he said.
That does little to ease the pain still being felt by the Bush family. Jeremy Bush's 2-year-old daughter, Hannah, who lived at the home and rushed into her uncle's room with everyone else that night, keeps asking to dig out her uncle, who she calls Jeff. Without a body to bury, the pain seems endless, Jeremy Bush said.
He said he understands rescue teams didn't want to put more lives at risk. But the lack of activity he witnessed in the wake of the incident is agonizing, he said.
"I felt there was a chance to do something," Jeremy Bush said. "They didn't."