Three-year-old Sadie Grace Andrews and her siblings wanted to run around.
During a family outing Saturday afternoon, the preschooler was playing in a grassy area outside a Bruster's ice cream shop in Auburn, Alabama, when she stepped on an unsecured lid to an underground grease pit, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said.
Harris said surveillance footage showed the lid flip up and the young child fall straight down into the grease pit. The lid then landed, upside down, on top of the hole.
"It all happened in a matter of seconds," the coroner told The Washington Post.
The child was found unresponsive - facedown in a six-foot-deep pit filled with sludge, Harris said Monday. She was rushed to a hospital but could not be resuscitated, he said.
"We know without a shadow of a doubt our baby is with Jesus," Sadie's mother, Corrie Andrews, told Al.com, adding: "Her name means 'God's thoughtful princess,' and she really was that - always expressing gratefulness and love for God and other people. She would light up a room with her smile; she walked with a skip in her step. I've never met a more joyful child who loved God with all her heart."
It was not the first time Sadie's parents had taken the children to the ice cream shop for something sweet and to play near the picnic tables outside. Harris said the children's father had walked them over to the grassy spot to make sure they were safe, then returned to his seat. But when the father turned back around, his 3-year-old daughter was gone.
Harris said Sadie's siblings did not see what had happened, so her father began looking behind trees and in the bushes to see whether she was hiding. Then, he noticed two lids on the ground - including one that was upside down. When he raised it, he found his preschooler in the grease pit, Harris said.
Her death was ruled an accidental drowning. It's unclear whether anyone will face charges related to the child's death; authorities did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The owners of the Bruster's, Lance and Kara Latham, said in a statement that they were "truly heartbroken":
"Our deepest condolences go to the family of the child who tragically died Saturday. They are acquaintances of ours and have been regular customers. Our thoughts also are with our young crew member who tried to revive the child. Like all of us, he is quite shaken. The entire Bruster's family is horribly saddened by this tragic accident. We continue to help local authorities investigate what caused this incredibly sad accident. We hope everyone in the community also will keep the family in their thoughts and prayers."
Sadie's parents described her as a "little blond bundle of joy." Tracy and Corrie Andrews told Al.com that their daughter used to climb in her mother's lap and sing "Be Still My Soul"; she would also put on a Burger King hat and impersonate Elvis Presley.
"It's really quiet around here without her today," Corrie Andrews told the newspaper. "She was the life of the party."
Tracy Andrews said he was glad for "the three years we had with her."
"She taught me about being happy and loving life and loving people," the father told Al.com. "At 3 years old, there's no preconceived notions. To her, everybody was good. She didn't see the bad. She just loved people, and it didn't matter what they did."
A YouCaring page set up to help with the preschooler's funeral expenses has raised more than $13,000.