World News

Isaac was singing nursery rhymes when the blast hit

Beirut, Lebanon: Isaac Oehlers played in his favourite pocket of Beirut for the final time just three days before a massive explosion at the nearby port took his life.

The two-year-old Australian loved the shaded garden of the Sursock Museum, his wide, brown eyes sparkling as he chased cats, climbed steps and charmed adoring locals.

On Friday local time (Saturday AEST), a small group of friends, neighbours and Australian embassy staff gathered in that same courtyard to unveil a swing in Isaac’s memory.

The swing dedicated to Isaac’s memory has been installed in a corner of the Sursock Museum’s courtyard. Credit:Carmen Yahchouchi for SMH

The memorial has an inscription which reads: “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night.”

Isaac was the youngest victim of the August 4, 2020, explosion which killed at least 218 people, injured 7000 and pushed 300,000 people out of their homes and businesses.

Parts of the city remain in ruins and Isaac’s parents, Sarah Copland and Craig Oehlers, are still fighting for justice.

Australia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Rebekah Grindlay, said it was “impossible” to imagine the couple’s pain.

Isaac’s parents Sarah Copland and Craig Oehlers sent a video message to the memorial. Credit:Carmen Yahchouchi for SMH

“When I spoke to Sarah soon after the blast, I said to her I would do everything I could do to make sure people remember his name — not a number, but a special boy named Isaac,” Grindlay said.

“Countless more children will laugh and play in this courtyard for years and hopefully generations to come, as Isaac watches over.”

Isaac was born in New York City where Copland worked for the United Nations before the family moved to Lebanon in 2019.

The trio loved visiting New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and were delighted to discover the Sursock Museum just down the road from their new home in Beirut.

“We just loved being able to surround him with beautiful things,” Copland said in a video played at the ceremony.

Isaac knew his pregnant mother couldn’t keep up with him on what would prove their final visit to the grounds.

Two-year-old Isaac Oehlers with his mother, Sarah Copland. Isaac was the youngest victim of the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020.

“I ended up chasing him all over the courtyard, which I think gave the security guards a good laugh as I was waddling around after him trying to catch him,” Copland recalled.

“He loved it there, he didn’t want to go. And now it’s so meaningful to us that we know a part of Isaac will always be there.”

Several children were killed, 31 hospitalised and 1000 injured when a port warehouse packed with an estimated 2700 tonnes of highly dangerous ammonium nitrate exploded during a fire on the evening of August 4 last year.

Isaac was at home in his highchair singing nursery rhymes at the time.

Copland wants the Australian government to back a push for the United Nations Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into the catastrophe, fearing a probe under way in Lebanon has been hampered by political interference.

The historic Sursock Museum was heavily damaged by the blast and will likely stay closed for at least another year while it is rebuilt.

Internal walls are still punctured with fragments of glass and metal, and dozens of damaged works have to be restored.

Lebanon is also battling a major economic crisis: the value of the local currency has collapsed, the price of basic goods has skyrocketed and widespread blackouts have been triggered by a shortage of fuel for generators.

Zeina Arida, the Sursock Museum’s director, said restoring Beirut’s social and cultural fabric was an important part of its post-explosion recovery.

“Of course you know what we are doing here by rebuilding is important, but what is happening outside in the streets is important too. We don’t live in la-la land. It’s all very difficult,” she said.

“But maybe art, culture and special places are the last things that keep us human.”

Get a note direct from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article