IGHRAN, Morocco (AP) — An eerie silence fell on a Moroccan village on Sunday after the death of a 5-year-old boy who had been trapped in a well for four days.
For days — and nights — the community of Ighran, a village in a mountainous area in northern Morocco, had gathered along the edges of the well, cheering on the rescue workers and volunteers digging deep into difficult terrain to reach the hole where the boy, Rayan, was trapped. They offered support to Rayan’s parents. Millions watched the rescue operation on state TV.
The boy was pulled out Saturday night by rescuers after a lengthy operation that captivated global attention. Convinced that Rayan was alive, the crowd was cheering as the child was rushed to an ambulance where his parents had been waiting.
Just minutes after the ambulance pulled away, a statement from the royal palace said the boy has died. Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed his condolences to the boy’s parents, Khaled Oram and Wassima Khersheesh.
Messages of support, concern and grief for the boy and his family poured in from around the world as the news of Rayan’s death spread overnight Saturday.
Pope Francis on Sunday described as “beautiful” how people had rallied around efforts to save Rayan’s life. Francis expressed thanks to the Moroccan people as he greeted the public in St. Peter’s Square. He praised people for “putting their all” into trying to save the child.
The palace statement said Morocco’s king had been closely following the frantic rescue efforts by locals authorities, “instructing officials to use all means necessary to dig the boy out of the well and return him alive to his parents.” The king hailed the rescuers for their relentless work and the community for lending support to Rayan’s family.
Rayan fell into a 32-meter (105-feet) well located outside his home on Tuesday evening. The exact circumstances of how he fell are unclear.
For three days, search crews used bulldozers to dig a parallel ditch. Then on Friday, they started excavating a horizontal tunnel to reach the trapped boy. Morocco’s MAP news agency said that experts in topographical engineering were called upon for help.
Rescuers used a rope to send oxygen and water down to the boy as well as a camera to monitor him. By Saturday morning, the head of the rescue committee, Abdelhadi Temrani, said: “It is not possible to determine the child’s condition at all at this time. But we hope to God that the child is alive.”
The work had been especially difficult because of fears that the soil surrounding the well could collapse on the boy.
The village of about 500 people is dotted with deep wells, many used for irrigating the cannabis crop that is the main source of income for many in the poor, remote and arid region of Morocco’s Rif Mountains. Most of the wells have protective covers.
Story: Mosa’Ab Elshamy and Tarik El-barakah. El-Barakah reported from Rabat.