University News

Bodies of Saudi Students Returned Home

Published: July 13, 2018 | Categories: All News

Jaser Alrakah and Cousin Drowned Trying to Save Others

US and Saudi flags

The Western New England University community joins with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mourning the loss of two heroic students being hailed as heroes around the globe.

The body of Western New England University student Jaser Alrakah has arrived home in his native Saudi Arabia, greeted by family at Najran Airport.

According the Saudi Press Agency, Prince Jalawi bin Abdulaziz bin Mas’ed, Governor of Najran, and other top government officials received Jaser’s body, as well as that of Theeb al-Yami. The two cousins drowned June 29 while trying to save children in the Chicopee River. The children survived, but Jaser and Theeb were swept up in the fast-moving currents.

Theeb, a student at the University of Hartford, and Jaser were both in the United States on scholarships provided by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission. Jaser was a promising young engineer working towards completing his degree in Civil Engineering during the upcoming fall semester and looking forward to returning home to Saudi Arabia.

News of their heroism quickly spread around the world, drawing praise from those who knew them and top government leaders.

“Jaser’s and Theeb’s heroic efforts to help save children from drowning are a true testament to their character,” said Western New England University Dean of Students Jeanne Hart-Steffes in addressing the tragedy. “They were more concerned for others than for their own safety.”

During a prayer vigil on campus, Dr. Mohammad Ali Hazratji of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts called the cousins martyrs for their sacrifice. The vigil offered those who shared classes and friendships with Jaser to mourn his loss and pray for his family. The vigil was attended by a number of Muslim students as well as faculty and staff of several faiths.

The U.S. State Department also offered its condolences to the families in a statement:

“Their heroism represents the very best of the international students who enrich communities across the United States,” said spokesperson Heather Nauert. “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.”

The University is currently planning a memorial to Jaser on campus during the fall semester.