‘Infinite sadness’: Spanish toddler who fell down well found dead after 13 days of rescue efforts
In the predawn hours of Saturday, a gargantuan search-and-rescue operation in Spain came to a tragic end as workers discovered the body of Julen Roselló, a 2-year-old boy who fell more than 30 stories down a narrow borehole nearly two weeks ago.
“At 1:25 a.m., Julen was found dead, unfortunately,” Alfonso Rodríguez, a government representative in Andalusia, told reporters later, his eyes brimming with tears as he gave details of the discovery.
Julen was found by two miners and an officer on duty from the national Civil Guard. The toddler’s body was retrieved from the hole at 4 a.m., Rodríguez said.
Julen’s fate had captivated the country since Jan. 13, when he tumbled into a narrow, unmarked hole — 15 inches at its widest point — that had been drilled for a possible well on private property in Totalan, a small town near Spain’s southern coast. The tragedy occurred as his parents, José Roselló and Vicky García, were setting up for a paella picnic.
The boy’s parents would later say they heard Julen’s echoing cries as he plummeted into darkness, down a hole thought to be 360 feet deep.
Then, there was nothing but agonizing silence.
Thirteen days elapsed, speckled with hope but increasingly laden with dread. A team of rescuers — including experts who previously helped retrieve trapped miners — worked around the clock to drill a separate, vertical tunnel parallel to the borehole. Initial efforts to drill into the earth were hampered by difficult terrain, bad weather and, most of all, time.
The ensuing mission was described as unprecedented — activity that engineers said might otherwise have taken a month was condensed into a few days.
Late Thursday afternoon, after workers digging a parallel tunnel reached a depth of about 230 feet, they began drilling horizontally to try to reach where Julen was thought to be trapped, El País reported.
“The whole design of the operation, which was carried out on an urgent basis, and all of the work that was carried out, was based on one theory: that Julen was in the borehole,” Rodríguez said Saturday, according to the newspaper. “That he was at the depth where he was eventually found. We worked with urgency, but also delicacy. Because the aim was to reach him without causing him any harm.”
Video released by the Civil Guard showed miners drilling horizontally into what appeared to be solid rock, chipping out small pieces at a time.
“Centimeter by centimeter,” the agency wrote.
Still, it was too late.
Julen’s body awaits an autopsy, Rodríguez told reporters. There were few conclusive details, but he indicated that Julen had reached his ultimate resting place quickly.
“The position of the body determines that it was a fast free-fall, to [233 feet], which is where he was found,” he said, according to El País.
Rodríguez said a judge in the nearby city of Malaga would be in charge of investigating who should be held responsible for Julen’s death and cautioned that the autopsy results could not be released before the completion of that investigation.
Both the borehole and the rescue tunnels would be filled, he added.
On Saturday, dozens of Spanish officials observed a moment of silence for Julen outside Malaga’s town hall.
“All of Spain feels the infinite sadness of Julen’s family,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted Saturday.
Julen’s parents, their faces stricken with grief, were seen arriving at a cemetery Saturday morning, hours after their son’s body had been discovered.
Throughout the ordeal, the boy’s parents had tried to hope against hope that Julen would be found alive, often referring to an angel watching over them — their first son, Oliver, who collapsed and died suddenly of a reported congenital heart defect at age 3.
“Oliver, don’t forget your brother, Julen,” his mother wrote on social media shortly after Julen’s fall, according to the Express. “You know we’ve been waiting for him for many hours. I know you protect him a lot, my little King.”
Later, she posted another picture of a sleeping baby: “If it’s true that there’s a God up there,” she wrote, “help him please."
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.