July 3, 2007
34-year-old Scott Showalter, a mennonite dairy farmer just outside Harrisonburg, was clearing a clogged pipe in his manure pit when he was overcome by the odorless gas methane
He was then followed by his wife, two daughters, and a farm worker all who climbed into the poorly ventilated pit to try and save him, all who died.
"It's just a tragedy. I mean, they're heartbroken, they're in shock right now and I think thats what would happen to any family under these circumstances," Rockingham County Sheriff Don Farley said.
Authorities say this type of pit is not uncommon and the method to clear the pipe is one that's used often.
"This was a repeated action that Mr. Showalter has done many times and just this day it was lined up in the stars that those gases could not escape and their odorless and you can't see them," Sheriff Farley said.
Because methane displaces oxygen, people die from suffocation. Sherriff Farley said before they hit the floor they were probably all dead.
"It was not a rescue mission, it was a recovery mission and it took us several hours to clear the pit of the harmful gas," Farley said.
Along with Scott Showalter, his 33-year-old wife Phyllis, 11-year-old daughter Shayla and nine-year-old daughter Christina all died, as well 24-year-old farmhand Amous Stoltzfus.
The Showalter's left behind 2 other younger daughters.