by Joseph Braude
On June 29 in Wilbraham, a small town in the American state of Massachusetts, two Saudi college students gave their lives in an effort to save two children from drowning.
Theeb Alyami, 27, had been studying civil engineering at the University of Hartford. His friend Jaser Daham Alrakah, 25, had been doing the same at Western New England University in Springfield.
During an outing to the Chicopee River in Wilbraham, Alyami and Alrakah joined several other adults in diving into the water to rescue two children — in response to an urgent plea by their mother, who had not managed to save them. Whereas the children made it safely to shore, Alyami and Alrakah were carried away by the river’s strong current. A state police dive team and air-wing unit were called in to help find them. One was located that evening; the other, two days later. (The river, while only 18 miles long, has a 721-square-mile basin — the largest in Massachusetts.)
By all accounts, both were upstanding young men who befriended fellow students of diverse backgrounds and stayed in close touch with their loved ones back home.
“Theeb and Jaser were among the 52,000 Saudi students studying in the United States who bring greater international understanding and diverse perspectives to U.S. campuses and communities, and to Saudi Arabia when they return home.” State Department spokeswoman
“The young men drowned while courageously attempting to save children in distress,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “Their heroism represents the very best of the international students who enrich communities across the United States. Theeb and Jaser were among the 52,000 Saudi students studying in the United States who bring greater international understanding and diverse perspectives to U.S. campuses and communities, and to Saudi Arabia when they return home.”
University of Hartford President Greg Woodward said, ”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.” According to an official statement from Western New England University about Alrakah, “By all accounts, he died coming to the aid of others.”
Washington-based Saudi government cultural attache Mohammed Al-Issa said the two youth “symbolize the spirit of loyalty and sacrifice.”
Among thousands of reactions to the story on social media, one young twitterer had looked up the meaning of the young men’s Arabic names. “One thing I find fascinating about this,” he wrote, “is the students were Theeb Alyami and Jaser Alrakah. In Arabic Theeb means “wolf” and is often used as a compliment to someone who is good natured and strong willed whilst Jaser literally means ‘brave.’”
On July 8, the bodies of Alyami and Alrakah arrived by plane to Najran Airport in Saudi Arabia, where they were brought to their final resting place. The young men’s families thanked Saudi king Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Saudi embassy in Washington for assisting and comforting them — adding, according to the Saudi Press Agency, that they were “proud of their martyred sons.”