Final dawn for the Julen Roselló rescue mission

The body of the two-year-old was found early on Saturday by rescuers who worked tirelessly for 13 days to locate the toddler

A group of the miners who worked to locate Julen.
A group of the miners who worked to locate Julen.JON NAZCA

Between 1am and 2am in the early hours of Saturday, people began leaving the bar Arriba y Abajo in Totalán, a small town nestled between mountains in a part of Málaga province known as Axarquía. Earlier in the night, the bar had run out of bread to make camperos, a sandwich typical of the area. It offered homemade pizzas instead.

At midnight, the bar had filled with people who weren’t locals or journalists or relatives or friends of the family of Julen Roselló, the two-year-old toddler who fell down a borehole on January 13.

The site of the rescue operation.
The site of the rescue operation.Álvaro Cabrera (EFE)

These people had come from Málaga and other cities in Andalusia and Spain, some as far as Barcelona and Madrid, to pray and show support for Julen’s parents, Jesús Roselló and Victoria García.

When the bar was about to close, some of them left to watch the house where Julen’s parents were staying. The local residents returned home after seeing themselves on the last live television show on Spanish television. And most of the journalists decided to walk the two kilometers to the point where authorized vehicles passed through to get to the site of the Julen rescue operation.

The presence in town of a central government official, María Gámez, hinted that something had happened. A live video feed also showed that a large number of people had begun to move around the borehole in Totalán, meeting and talking together in small groups.

The next day, the lead engineer overseeing the rescue, Angel García Vidal, told Spanish television station Antena 3 that when he found out they had located Julen’s body, everyone present hugged one another. In the words of Julián Moreno, the head of Málaga’s fire department, Julen was “like everyone’s child.”

Civil Guard officers found Julen’s lifeless body before dawn on Saturday, at 1.25am, after specialist miners cleared a path between the 110-meter deep borehole and a parallel tunnel drilled for the purpose of reaching the child. One hour later, the news was officially made public. But before that happened, a Civil Guard vehicle stopped at the house where Julen’s parents had been given a place to stay. Psychologists met with Roselló and García and passed on the news that their youngest son Julen had died. In 2017, their eldest son Oliver died from a sudden heart attack when he was just three years old.

Julen’s body had multiple bruises, suggesting he likely died from the impact of the fall


The next day, more information emerged about the 13-day rescue operation that had thousands of people on tenterhooks across Spain and abroad. A Civil Guard officer who was there for the entire mission told EL PAÍS that the firefighters and law enforcement officers were initially “very doubtful” that Julen could had fallen down such a small hole, which was only 25 centimeters in diameter. They later realized that, strange as it was, this had been the case.

Regarding a layer of earth that had covered Julen’s body – and which had proved impossible to remove during early efforts  – rescuers believe it was most likely dislodged as he fell down the borehole. More earth may have fallen at the beginning of the operation when rescuers placed pipes and other tools down the shaft, which was easily disturbed because it was not shored up.

But how did such a large layer of earth – which could not even be removed by a sand absorption truck – fall on top of Julen? Did Julen pull down this earth himself during his freefall? These are the two questions the Civil Guard has been focusing on since it opened an investigation into the accident.

The funeral was held in El Palo, Malaga, on Sunday.
The funeral was held in El Palo, Malaga, on Sunday.KMJ/KMA (GTRES)

Alfonso Rodríguez Gómez de Celis, the central government’s delegate in Andalusia, confirmed that “there are lots of theories but there is not yet any certainty.” The matter is now in the hands of the justice system, which will determine whether it was a case of negligence.

Cause of death

On Saturday, five forensic experts from the Legal Medicine Institute performed an autopsy on Julen. Sources close to the investigation say that the child had multiple bruises on his body, suggesting he likely died from the impact of the fall. After the examination, the two-year-old’s body was moved to a mortuary in El Palo, a suburb in Málaga where the family lives. A funeral was held for Julen on Sunday.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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