RABAT – The death of 5-year-old Rayan Awram despite a massive effort to rescue him from a deep well sparked an outpouring of sympathy on Sunday, from his village in northern Morocco to the Vatican, from King Mohammed to international football clubs.
The saga of the ultimately failed rescue attempt gripped the country and many people abroad for days.
Rayan fell into the well in Ighran village near the town of Chefchaouen on Tuesday and his body was finally pulled out late on Saturday, following an operation that involved cutting much of the adjacent hillside and then tunneling toward the bottom of the well to reach the child.
Many of the weary rescue workers and the hundreds of people who had gathered around the well hoping for good news burst into tears when they heard Rayan was dead.
“I heard people shout in jubilation after the boy was found thinking he was alive but then we learnt he was not. I never felt this sad,” an onlooker called Noureddine told Reuters.
The boy’s parents spoke to state Al Oula TV after their son’s body was recovered.
“This is God’s will. I thank all for their efforts to help,” Rayan’s mother Ouassima Kharchich said, her voice strained with grief and barely audible.
“We thank so much the people and authorities… who helped us,” the father, Khalid Awram, said.
King Mohammed expressed condolences to the parents in a phone call on Saturday night, a palace statement said.
It was not yet clear when the funeral would take place, but well-wishers travelled to the village on Sunday to offer condolences to the family.
“We feel that people are sorry, we are all sorry. We have no other choice. The father, the mother, the grandmothers and uncles,” an uncle of the child, Mohammed Kharshish, told Reuters TV on Sunday. “May God give us patience.”
Pope Francis praised the people of Morocco for coming together to try to rescue the boy.
“The people clung together, as a whole, to save Rayan, they worked together to save a child,” the pope said during his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square. “(The rescuers) tried their best, unfortunately they did not make it,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he felt the pain of Rayan’s family and of Moroccans.
Soccer clubs including Liverpool FC, Manchester United, FC Barcelona and FC Sevilla also expressed condolences on their Arabic Twitter accounts.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Frances Kerry)