'The son of us all': Moroccans say farewell to boy who died in well

Mourners gather to pay their final respects to Rayan Awram during his funeral near Chefchaouen, Morocco, on Feb 7, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAMOROT, Morocco (REUTERS) - Hundreds of mourners on Monday (Feb 7) gathered to pay their final respects to the Moroccan boy who was found dead last Saturday after a days-long effort to rescue him from a well that transfixed the country and many abroad.

Five-year-old Rayan Awram fell into the well in Ighran village last Tuesday. His body was finally pulled out late last Saturday after rescuers excavated much of an adjacent hillside and then tunnelled towards the bottom of the well.

Hundreds of mourners climbed the hilly, unpaved road leading to the cemetery in Ighran, near Chefchaouen in northern Morocco, where they waited for hours for the funeral to observe the Muslim burial rituals.

"I am over 50 years old and never seen as many people in a funeral. Rayan is the son of us all," said one villager.

There were so many mourners that they could not all fit into the village cemetery and prayer site. Two large tents were erected in front of the grieving family's house where mourners could stop to offer condolences.

"Rayan's death has renewed faith in humanity as people in different languages and from different countries express solidarity," said another villager.

Last Saturday, condolences to the parents also came from Morocco's King Mohammed VI, Pope Francis, French President Emmanuel Macron, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and other notables.

Egyptian and Senegalese football players held a minute of silence on Sunday before the kick-off of the final of the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.

Rescuers had worked ceaselessly and were at constant risk of triggering a landslide in their ultimately fruitless effort to pull out the child alive.

"I am very sad. We spared no effort to reach the boy alive.

"We excavated around the clock in five days what could have taken weeks," volunteer digger Ali Sahraoui told reporters at the funeral.

The well was only 45cm wide at the top and tapered as it dropped 32m to the bottom, where Rayan was trapped, making it impossible for rescuers to descend directly.

Mourners gather during the funeral of Rayan Awram near Chefchaouen, Morocco, on Feb 7, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

A male relative of the boy said last Friday that the family had first realised he was missing when they heard muffled crying and lowered a phone with its light and camera switched on to locate him.

"He was crying 'lift me up'," said the relative.

The hilly region around Chefchaouen is bitterly cold in winter and rescuers attempted to keep the boy alive by lowering food, water and oxygen through a tube.

"I am so sad to learn Rayan has died. Sincere condolences to the parents," said Rabat resident Abderrahim Sabihi.

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