Two Saudi Arabian students accidentally drowned Friday while attempting to rescue two small American children caught in the current in the Chicopee River in Wilbraham. The international students were later identified as 25-year-old Jaser Alrakah and 27-year-old Theeb Alyami, according to the Hampden District Attorney’s office. Both young men, who were also cousins, studied at local colleges in Massachusetts, reports the Boston Globe.
Authorities responded to a 911 call on Friday that indicated several swimmers were in trouble. When police and emergency crews responded, they found out that the incident involved up to five children and nine adults in canoes.
The children were playing in the water when they were caught in the river’s tricky current. Several adults in addition to Mr. Alrakah and Mr. Alyami attempted to save the children, but couldn’t. The Saudi students were swept away by the river’s strong current, but the children that they went in to save were able to safely make it to the shore.
Emergency personnel later found out that the two Saudi students had jumped in at the Red Bridge Canoe Access waterway in Wilbraham in an attempt to help others who were struggling in the water.
The waterway the Saudi students drowned in is not intended for swimming, and after the drowning, authorities from the Wilbraham Police Department issued a warning, according to Western Mass News. The warning read that the river current where the drowning took place is especially dangerous since it’s where two currents meet. The warning also stated that while the surface of the river might appear harmless, that appearance can trick you.
Ludlow Fire Captain, Ricky Machado, spoke out about the danger, saying, “these river and waterways are unpredictable. It’s moving water. They’re unsafe in every sense of the word.” Captain Machado also noted that the drowning of the Saudi students wasn’t the first tragedy they’d seen during the summer involving an unprotected waterway. Emergency responders are pleading with people to swim where there are lifeguards.
The brother of one of the victims gave the Sabaq newspaper the following statement after the tragedy.
“On Friday my brother and his cousin were on a picnic next to the river when they saw a mother in distress trying to save her children, who now because of my brother and cousin are alive and have already been discharged from the hospital. The American media are referring to them as heroes.”
Both of the Saudi students who sacrificed their lives were going to graduate with degrees in engineering in two week’s time. Additionally, Jaser Alrakah and Theeb Alyami hadn’t returned home to visit their family in three years. Mr. Alyami was enrolled in the University of Hartford’s civil engineering program, and Mr. Alrakah was studying to be an engineer at Western New England University.
Both universities released statements expressing their condolences to the families of the Saudi Students. The colleges also said that they appreciated their brave acts, and said that the family could count on their “full solidarity.”
Fox 61 reports that the president of the University of Hartford issued the following statement to students mourning the loss of Theeb Alyami.
Dear Members of the UHart Community,
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I write to tell you of a tragic loss. University of Hartford student Theeb Alyami passed away in an accidental drowning in Massachusetts on Friday.
Theeb, an international student from Saudi Arabia, was a senior studying civil engineering. A contributing member of our vibrant community, he was attending UHart after earning sponsorship of his educational experience by the Cultural Mission of Saudi Arabia.
We will mourn this terrible loss together. In the days ahead, we will work with Theeb’s family to determine the most appropriate way to honor his memory. For now, I ask that you keep his family and friends, as well as our CETA colleagues, in your thoughts and prayers as they begin to cope with this tragedy. If you are in need of support or grief counseling resources, please reach out to the dean of students office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reddit users also spoke out about the loss of the two young men. One user wrote, “Theeb means wolf. Some people use Theeb as a compliment when you want to say someone’s strong willed or good.”