Fourteen-year-old Bashir Bello had traveled from Lagos, Nigeria, to Albuquerque for a robotics competition this week, and his friends say he wanted to go swimming. On Monday afternoon he lost his life, drowning in a hotel pool.
His friends tried in vain to save him.
Tomorrow, Bello’s classmates and members of the local Islamic community will bury his body here, quickly and with a short prayer, in accordance with his family’s religious beliefs.
“We got in touch with the parents in Nigeria,” said Muhamed Abdel-hack, director of public relations for the Islamic Center of New Mexico. “Their preference and belief was that God had brought the child here, his life ended here, and his body should be buried here.”
Bello’s death is being considered an accident.
Abdel-hack said the Islamic Center community has been helping Bello’s classmates cope with the tragedy.
Police called the center as soon as they found out Bello was Muslim, and local mothers and fathers flocked to the hotel to be with the remaining students, talk with them about what happened and answer any questions they might have, Abdel-hack said.
“I’m sure it’s heartbreaking, it’s something they didn’t expect, and someone they traveled thousands of miles with to get here,” Abdel-hack said. “After the burial (the students will be) transitioning back to their purpose for coming here … providing some measure of closure.”
Russ Fisher-Ives, the co-founder and global director of RoboRave International, said Bello was one of 84 students from Nigeria who came to the U.S. with 11 chaperones. He said the boy was signed up to debate the ethics of drones and compete in an alpine challenge — where teams of two or three students build a robot that can climb an 80-degree incline.
Fisher-Ives said this year’s competition includes students from 20 countries across five continents. The event will be dedicated to Bello’s memory.
“You’ve taken a loss of life — a 14-year-old kid in his prime,” Fisher-Ives said. “We want to be sensitive to the Nigerians that are here and his family back home.”
An incident report from the Albuquerque Police Department details the events leading to Bello’s death and the chaos that ensued.
Around 3:45 p.m., while the group’s director was at the hospital with a sick child, the teenager and three of his friends snuck out of their rooms at the Wyndham Hotel on Carlisle and Menaul NE to go to the hotel’s indoor pool.
Bello’s 14-year-old friend later told police the other kids didn’t want to get in the pool, but Bello did, so they watched as he entered the shallow end, gradually getting deeper and deeper.
“He stated that he went to the deep end and was initially swimming well but began to go underwater,” an officer wrote in the report. “He stated that he stuck his hand out to attempt to pull Bello in.”
The boy said he was able to grab onto Bello but then his friend slipped through his fingers, sinking to the bottom of the pool.
Bello’s two other friends, ages 12 and 13, ran to get a hotel employee for help, according to the report.
APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said two hotel staff members jumped into the pool to try to save Bello and lifted the unresponsive boy out of the water. Another employee then began performing CPR until a police officer arrived a minute later. Hotel staff declined to comment Tuesday.
A police officer arrived and took over, and then rescue personnel attempted to revive him through advanced cardiac support.
Bello was pronounced dead 47 minutes later.
Abdel-hack said while Bello’s family back home must be distraught over his death, Muslims try not to dwell on a person’s death.
“We’re supposed to use it as a sort of inspiration to do what we can while we’re here,” he said. “Have some sort of positive impact, do your best, live your life according to religious values, be a good person, and contribute where you can. Those are the kinds of messages that will help them move on, hopefully.”