Eric Haider was born prematurely, young and weak, with a sighing heart. He was not expected to survive. But he did.
At a young age, Eric, who was deaf to one ear, learned to sign and passed years of physical therapy for the problems he faced as a preemie. But the little boy eventually became a strong man, six feet [6 m] tall who, according to his mother, once literally handed a shirt off his back to a stranger who needed it for a job interview.
"She was the one," her mother Maryellen Suchan told Dateline. “He may have had a weak heart, but he had a heart of gold. And he cared deeply for others. ”
At only 27 years of age, a heart machine was installed in his chest to help with his heart problems. He will live another three years until the cardiologist marks his death time at 12:19 p.m. May 24, 2012.
But it was not from his history of heart problems. It was a Thursday in May, just before the Memorial Day weekend when he was buried in a ditch some 20 feet [6 m] underground, beneath the mounds of sand where he had worked that day.
Her mother, Maryellen, told Dateline that since she had almost lost Eric as a baby, she had always feared losing him.
"Losing Eric like this is unthinkable," he said. “He despised the problems many times, and he lived. To be buried alive, to be killed, is not the only thing we will be able to overcome. ”
Eric Haider, who lived in Bismarck, North Dakota, was still embarrassed for just a few weeks on his 31st birthday when it happened. He had recently started working with Cofell Plumbing and Heating and the company was working on a large sewage system on Highway 22 in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Memorial Day Weekend was fast approaching, but six staff members, including Eric, continued to drive from Bismarck to the Dickinson area.
His mother Maryellen remembers the last time she saw Eric. He had just left her at the bakery.
"The last thing she did was say, 'Kiss me and kiss me,' and she said, 'I love you, Ma. We'll talk later.' I last saw him, "he said.
After a long day at work, Eric and the crew would return to Bismarck at 6:30 pm where his fiancée Jody would be there to pick him up.
But on May 24, Eric did not return to the building. His fiancée will tell police she tried to call her cell phone but went straight to voicemail, which she said was unusual.
Dickinson police were notified and an investigation was launched. According to a police report provided by Dateline, the responding officer contacted the project manager, Jack Bettenhausen, who was at the scene that day.
He told police that workers returned from lunch around 12 p.m. Eric's fiancée, who used to talk to him during the day, told police he had spoken to her on the phone at 12:04 a.m. and that it all seemed normal.
About 15 minutes later, staff were unable to locate Eric, according to the report. A few hours later, they called his cell phone but he went straight to voicemail.
The superintendent told police that Eric was very quiet and did not really interact with staff, according to the report. He said Eric had asked for a holiday on the weekend of Memorial Day, but was turned down, so the foreman told police he thought Eric was upset about the rejection and might have left.
So the workers left the site that day with Eric's lunch box, backpack, and paycheck, which had been given to the staff that morning, but there was still no sign of Eric.
Eric's fiancée Jody later told police there was no way Eric would just walk away from work, saying Eric "doesn't know how to stop" and has a strong work ethic.
Eric had been with the company for a while, but he always wanted to move on to the bigger and better things of his family. A father of two, a 30-year-old son and daughter had been studying engineering colleges.
"She didn't go - she was there, she was buried in that ground," Maryellen said. “I remember waking up in the middle of the night just to cover myself with a blanket, especially in the winter. I knew he was cold down there on the ground. ”
Five days after Eric's disappearance, police began digging into the construction site based on the instructions given to the workers.
"We were told and led to the belief that that part of the canal had been reclaimed before Eric's disappearance," detective Sgt Kylan Klauzer told NBC affiliates KFYR-TV. "We were already far ahead of the information we had."
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But they were digging in the wrong way.
Three years after Eric disappeared from the construction site, his body was found buried six feet [6.5 m] underground, less than 10 feet [10 m] above the police burial ground, according to a statement issued by Discovery Investigations, Inc. , a private family research company hired by the family.
According to a police report, a private investigator, Ron Switzer, and his colleagues, found that there would be more digging in Eric's area to include water supply works. So they contacted the cadaver K9 manager to come to the site. They showed them to dig where K9 had made an illegal reference.