Death of Rayan, 5, crushes hearts in Morocco

Nation stunned after anxiously following massive rescue attempt that lasted five days

Rayan's parents after rescuers reached their child, who had been trapped down a 32-metre well at the north Moroccan town of Bab Berred. Rayan was later pronounced dead. AFP
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Grief and shock engulfed millions in Morocco and around the world when Rayan Aourram, 5, was pronounced dead, shortly after rescuers finally reached him late on Saturday.

They had followed transfixed the desperate attempt to save the child who had been trapped at the bottom of deep well for five days in a small town on the outskirts of the northern city of Chefchaouen.

Condolences and expressions of solidarity, led by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, began pouring in to Rayan’s family from all over the world soon after his death was confirmed.

No funeral time had been announced on Sunday evening as the boy's body underwent a post-mortem at a military hospital in the capital Rabat.

Social media platforms trended with hashtags in sympathy for the child and his family, whose home town of Bab Berred became the centre of global attention as local and international news outlets reported on his rescue.

Rayan’s ordeal began on Tuesday, when he fell into the narrow 32-metre deep well near his house while his father took a brief break from working on it. The family searched for hours before realising Rayan was in the well, having fallen through an opening less than 40 centimetres across.

Their emotional turmoil was shared by millions through minute-by-minute coverage of the effort to save his life.

Nerve-racking wait

Taha Ben Ali, a student in the northern Moroccan city of Meknes, said he could not sleep through it all.

“I have never experienced a more traumatising incident,” he told The National. “Rayan’s severe suffering united all Moroccans and Arabs, and sadness consumed all homes.

“We were waiting for a miracle and for Rayan to return to us safely. But God’s destiny is above all. May he grant us all strength.”

Progress in digging a hole alongside the well had been slowed by the composition of the soil, and fears of a collapse meant the final excavation of a horizontal tunnel towards Rayan had to be done manually. Despite these obstacles, hope had remained that he would be brought out alive.

Speaking to The National hours before rescuers reached Rayan, his father, Khalid, said he was not sure if his son was aware of his surroundings.

Khalid’s nephew, Hamza, said the child was unable to consume any of the food and water that was lowered to him. “We are all desperately waiting for his recovery,” he said.

From euphoria to grief

Cheers of jubilation and religious chants broke out among the hundreds of people from across the country who had camped at the rescue site when medics quickly transferred Rayan to an ambulance that had been waiting for days.

Exhausted by the wait and anticipation, the crowd soon dispersed, waiting to hear official reports of Rayan’s condition. When a statement from the Royal Office broke the news of his death soon after, Morocco was overcome by grief that rippled across the region, and the world.

Fatma Al Zahraa Jarf, from the central town of Missour, said her heart was with the young boy as he resisted death alone.

I cried with joy when he was recovered, and it has been an agonising heartbreak since then
Fatma Al Zahraa Jarf, resident of Missour

“I cried with joy when he was recovered, and it has been an agonising heartbreak since then. We lived in hope that the little hero would be reunited with his parents, and that everyone involved in the rescue would celebrate a triumph against death,” she said.

“May the little champion rest in peace.”

An air of silent mourning hung over the country on Sunday, with little conversation among people on the streets.

A woman in her fifties, in the eastern city of Wajda, said she had a restless night. “The image of Rayan haunted me through the night. May the poor child rest in peace,” said the woman.

A devastating story

For journalists who had been at the site for days, engaging with Rayan’s family and home town as they relayed live the developments in the rescue effort to those eagerly following in the country and beyond, the impact of his death has been profound.

Mohamed Adel Tatou, a journalist with the independent al3omk news website, said reporting this story very stressful and distressing.

I’m in a bad state. I am barely able to sleep
Mohamed Adel Tatou, journalist

“I don’t feel like myself. I’m in a bad state. I am barely able to sleep,” he said.

Hammad Lekbeer, a reporter with Hibapress, said Saturday evening was one of the toughest experiences he has had in years, “with the collapse of the hope that filled our hearts”.

Comparing the dispersal of the crowd after Rayan's death was announced to “a scene from a tragic film”, he described how about 300 vehicles carrying more than 1,000 people stretched over two kilometres as they left the area, in what looked like a funeral procession.

Needless tragedy

Rayan’s death has also stirred anger among some, and triggered calls for authorities to address the danger of unfenced and abandoned wells.

Rayan’s cousin Hamza said such wells were common in the mountainous region where residents struggle with water scarcity and must bore deep into the ground to secure their needs.

Bloggers and social media users urged authorities to fill in unused wells, and prosecute those fail to comply with safety regulations.

Hassan El Hafa, who has more than 150,000 followers on Facebook, wrote: “After the death of Rayan the child as a result of negligence in fencing the open well — which was the main reason for his departure from this world — a national campaign must be conducted to reduce the loss of lives due to negligence, indifference and recklessness, by identifying, and calling for the fencing, marking, and installation of warning signs, along with everything that might repeat the tragedy.”

This story has been published in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: February 08, 2022, 6:03 AM