LIVE OAK, Fla. – Three young children died Sunday evening after getting trapped in a chest freezer, the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office said Monday.
Deputies said they were called to a home on 173rd Place about 6 p.m. to find family members performing CPR on the children. Deputies, along with Suwannee County Fire Rescue, transported the three children to Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center, but they could not be revived.
"Words can't describe ... (this) tragedy, how heartbroken I am," Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John said. "Any time you deal with children and something like this and when they die from something like this nature, it just tugs at your heartstrings. Words can’t describe this and the only thing we can do is go forward."
Investigators said it appeared the children -- ages 1, 4 and 6 years old -- were playing outside in the yard and climbed inside a chest freezer that had recently been brought to the mobile home. It was outside and not plugged in.
The sheriff said the mother of the 4-year-old, who had been watching the children, told authorities she went inside to use the bathroom and when she went back outside, she could not find the children. She woke up another woman who was inside the home sleeping and they went looking for the kids. They found them inside the freezer, not breathing.
The two began CPR and called 911.
"Upon further inspection of the freezer, an after-market hasp had been installed on the lid in order to secure a padlock on it. It is believed at this time that when the children entered the freezer and the lid closed, the hasp fell shut, trapping the children inside," the Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook.
There was no padlock on the freezer.
The sheriff said the 6-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl were brother and sister and lived with their grandmother. The 4-year-old is a friend who lived in the same home.
"There are two families that live in the same residence. There’s a grandmother who lives there. She is a grandmother of the 1-year-old and 6-year-old. The other lady who lives there, she is the actual mother to the 4-year-old girl," St. John explained.
The principal at Suwannee Primary School said the older boy was in kindergarten and the school has grief counselors on hand.
The Florida Department of Children and Families was notified of the children's deaths.
The investigation is still ongoing, but at this time, foul play is not suspected.
It is against Florida law to leave or discard appliances outside a home.
"First of all, make sure you know where your children are at all times, especially younger kids like this," St. John said. "Maybe we can get the word out for anyone who has these around their residence -- please be aware of it. There’s a Florida (statute) against it. Pease dispose of it properly or take the lid off of it."