Final autopsy: Spanish toddler died from fall down well, not from rescue pickaxe blow

Forensic pathologists have concluded that the tragic death of two-year-old Malaga boy Julen Rosello in January was caused by his fall down a 110-metre-deep borehole rather than by the use of pickaxes during the arduous two-week rescue mission.

Final autopsy: Spanish toddler died from fall down well, not from rescue pickaxe blow
David Serrano, owner of the land where the well is located, stands behind Julen's father during the child's funeral. Photo: AFP

Spanish society started the year gripped by the heartbreaking disappearance of a Malaga toddler, who had fallen down a narrow, unmarked borehole while on a walk in the countryside with his parents. 

After a problem-ridden rescue mission in which dozens of rescue workers helped to dig up upwards of 40,000 tonnes of earth, the child’s lifeless body was found thirteen days later.

Julen’s tragic fate put the spotlight on the 500,000 illegal wells found across Spain, including those on the plot in which he died as well as its owner, who is being investigated for involuntary manslaughter.

But despite the fact that the initial autopsy ruled that Julen had died soon after falling down the 110-metre-deep shaft from numerous bodily and head traumas, landowner David Serrano presented a case together with his defense lawyer that spread doubt about these initial forensic findings. 

“His parents heard him cry for 30 seconds, it’s impossible that the boy could’ve hit his head again as he fell standing,” lawyer Antonio Flores is quoted as saying by El Economista.

“It could’ve been one of the impacts of the rescue team’s pickaxes that caused Julen’s death.”

Serrano and his team’s accusations, presented in late February and backed up with alleged evidence of the child’s hair on one of the pickaxes, have now been fully dismissed by the final autopsy carried out on little Julen.

Pathologists on Monday reported that Julen died around 1:50 pm on January 13, 2019 and that ” the main cause of death was the accidental fall,” during which he suffered traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries “, according to judicial sources.

The forensic team completely ruled out the possibility of rescuers having accidentally hurt Julen with their digging tools as the report found “no cranial fractures” on the child.

The confirmed time of death doesn’t correspond either with the time at which pickaxes were used, with the rescue team only making use of these four hours after his death.

SEE ALSO: The images that tell the story of the hunt for missing Julen

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Spanish diggers struggle to reach toddler who fell in well

Diggers trying to reach a two-year-old boy who fell into a deep well in southern Spain a week ago saw their progress slowed by harder rock on Sunday, though experts held out hope he could still be alive.

Spanish diggers struggle to reach toddler who fell in well
A general view of the village of Totalan. Photo: AFP

LATEST: What you need to know about Spain's desperate mission to find two-year-old Julen



There has been no contact with Julen Rosello since he fell down the narrow shaft, some 100 metres deep, on January 13th while playing as his parents prepared a picnic nearby in the town of Totalan near Malaga.

After abandoning an initial plan to reach the boy with an angled tunnel because of repeated collapses and landslides, workers turned to the possibility of drilling a vertical shaft parallel to the well.

But the new effort slowed as diggers hit hard granite.

They have so far bored down some 40 metres, local Canal Sur television reported. When they reach a depth of 60 metres, a team of eight expert miners will be lowered down the shaft to start digging a horizontal tunnel to the location where they believe the toddler is.

The authorities are “doing everything that is humanly possible” to rescue the boy, Juanma Moreno, president of the regional government of Andalusia, told reporters.

“But the circumstances are not helping. I hope and trust that tomorrow, Monday, we will have some positive news. But it will depend on the nature of the ground,” he added.

Rescuers used probes to explore the bottom of the well that came back with strands of hair matching the child's DNA, as well as a bag of sweets that he was carrying when he went missing, providing confirmation that he is down the hole.

Experts told Spanish media that there are slim chances that Julen could still be alive, explaining that cold weather slows a body's metabolism, so it needs less energy and can survive with abnormally low breathing and blood flow.

“The cold has a double edge. On the one hand it's negative, because it can cause multiple consequences. But in this case we all hope for its better outcome: with it you gain time to survive because at lower temperatures the human metabolism slows and tissues are preserved,” Ivan Carabano, a paediatrician at Madrid's Hospital 12 de Octubre, told the El Pais daily.

There have been cases similar to Julen's in which a person survived 10 days in a semi-conscious state that needed less oxygen, the head of the Andalusian Federation of Speleogy, Jose Antonio Berrocal, told reporters in Totalan last week.

Spanish media, which have been covering the unprecedented rescue operations round-the-clock, have reported that Julen's parents lost another child, aged three, in 2017. The child had cardiac problems.

The well was unmarked at the time of the accident and regional authorities in Andalusia said the necessary permission had not been sought before it was dug.

This race against time recalls several other high-profile cases in the 1980s.

Alfredo Rampi, an Italian boy, was found dead in a well near Rome in 1981 while Jessica McClure, an 18-month-old girl, was rescued alive from a well in Texas in October 1987 after more than two days inside.

READ ALSO: Race against the clock (and the rain) to rescue toddler trapped in well