Moroccans on Monday attended the funeral of Rayan, a five-year-old boy who spent five days trapped down a well, sparking a vast rescue operation that gripped the world but ended in tragedy.
The boy had fallen down a narrow, 32-metre (100-foot) dry well last Tuesday, sparking a complex earth-moving operation to try to reach him without triggering a landslide.
Well-wishers had flooded social media with messages of sympathy and prayers that he would be brought out alive, but their hopes were dashed.
On Saturday night, crowds had cheered as rescue workers cleared away the final handfuls of soil to reach him, after the marathon digging operation in the village of Ighrane in northern Morocco’s impoverished Rif mountains.
But the joy turned to grief when the royal cabinet of the North African nation announced that the boy was dead.
King Mohammed VI called the parents to voice his condolences.
The child’s body was taken to a military hospital in the capital Rabat, accompanied by his parents.
On Monday it was transported to the Douar Zaouia cemetary near his village, where hundreds of mourners attended his funeral, AFP journalists said.
– Nation in shock –
Rayan’s father Khaled Aourram said he had been repairing the well when his son fell in, close to the family home.
The shaft, just 45 centimetres (18 inches) across, was too narrow for Rayan to be reached directly, and widening it was deemed too risky — so earth movers dug a wide slope into the hill.
Rescue crews, using bulldozers and front-end loaders, excavated the surrounding red earth down to the level where the boy was trapped, before drill teams carefully dug a horizontal tunnel to reach him from the side to avoid causing a landslide.
Vast crowds came to offer their support, singing and praying to encourage the rescuers who worked around the clock.
But the boy’s death left Moroccans in shock.
Mourad Fazoui in Rabat mourned what he said was a disaster. “May his soul rest in peace and may God open the gates of heaven to him,” the salesman said.
The Arabic daily newspaper Assabah criticised the digging of unauthorised wells, saying many were used to irrigate cannabis widely grown in Morocco’s north.
Social media across the Arab world were flooded with messages of support, grief, and praise for rescue workers.
“He has brought people together around him,” one Twitter user said.
But one deplored a “dystopian world” where “Arab nations are moved” by the Morocco rescue operation for the child while vast numbers of infants die in conflict or famine in Yemen and Syria.