ROME—In times of tragedy, everyone needs a happy ending. That probably explains why, for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon, the internet buzzed with stories celebrating word that Julian Cadman, the little British-Australian boy separated from his mother during last Thursday’s terror attack in Barcelona, had been found alive in a hospital.
The caring part of the internet had been holding its collective breath since Julian’s extended family members put out a plea to find the little boy. There was reason to hope, and so, those with a heart did just that.
It seemed entirely feasible he could have survived. His Filipino-British mother Jumarie “Jom” Cadman, who had suffered broken legs, along with serious back and head injuries, had been pulled to safety in a nearby pharmacy that was ordered to close its metal grate security doors by police sweeping the scene. Little Julian was left on the pavement near the other side of the street and could easily have been taken into a business there.
Fouad Bakkali, a Muslim pharmacist who helped keep Julian’s mother alive by wrapping his lab coat around her bleeding wounds, said she ignored her own injuries and cared only about her missing son. “She was asking all the time about her little boy. She asked me ‘where is my son.’ She told me he was seven years old,’’ Bakkali told reporters in Barcelona. “I told her, ‘He is good, it will be OK.’”
In reality, Spanish police had the little boy at the morgue after picking his lifeless body off the pavement. The mother was in no state to see him, and they were waiting for his father, Andrew Cadman, to arrive from Australia to identify his boy’s broken corpse.
In the chaos following the event, the desperate family members who posted the messages that young Julian was missing apparently simply hadn’t been informed that Spanish authorities were fairly sure they had his remains. Or maybe they were just hoping by some miracle the little boy in the morgue wouldn’t be Julian.
Shortly after Andrew Cadman left Australia for Barcelona, the search plea messages on social media came down, which again gave false hope that the reason was because the little boy was found alive.
But when the authorities took Julian’s father directly from the airport to the morgue where all the terror attack victims were kept for identification, the reality quickly set in. The Spanish police released a cryptic message that they “had not found” and “were never looking” for any young person. All the victims and survivors were accounted for, they said and left it at that.
A whole day passed before the Spanish police finally confirmed the inevitable, that Julian was one of the 13 people killed in the attack on Las Ramblas. No doubt, Mr. Cadman wanted to tell the horrible news to his wife first, an understandable decision even if the rest of the world grew impatient, arguing online in the meantime about whether the boy was alive or dead.
Julian’s mother was undergoing surgery while her husband was identifying their son’s body. What he went through is hard to fathom, but it is completely understandable that keeping the media updated about what was happening was not a priority.
All the while the futile search for Julian and confusion about his condition played out, the uncaring side of the internet was busy, too. Someone posted a still shot from a news video that appeared to show a little boy about Julian’s age face down on Las Ramblas and juxtaposed it with the famous photo of the little Syrian refugee Alan (Aylan) Kurdi face down on a Turkish beach in 2015.
The worst of the uncaring trolls asked why Kurdi’s dead baby photo got so much play when one thought to be Cadman didn’t. A series of widely diffused tweets and posts declared that the dead Syrian child’s photo somehow “glorified terrorists” and not showing a similar one of a child thought to be Cadman amounted to denial, as if somehow the value of an innocent child’s lost life can be measured by how viral a photo of his or her body proves to be.
Julian Cadman was not the only child who died in the Barcelona attacks. A yet-unnamed three-year-old is reported to have died with his mother at the scene.
The reality is that all children die the same: too soon and far too tragically.
The Cadman family issued a statement on Sunday that is perfectly appropriate and terribly difficult to read:
“Julian was a much loved and adored member of our family. As he was enjoying the sights of Barcelona with his mother, Julian was sadly taken from us. He was so energetic, funny and cheeky, always bringing a smile to our faces. We are so blessed to have had him in our lives and will remember his smiles and hold his memory dear to our hearts. We would like to thank all those who helped us in searching for Julian. Your kindness was incredible during a difficult time. We also acknowledge we are not the only family to be affected by the events, our prayers and thoughts are with all people affected.”