The Spanish press has dubbed him a hero. On December 6, Gorgui Lamine Sow, an undocumented man from Senegal rescued a man with disabilities who was trapped as a fire raged through his apartment in the small coastal town of Denia near Alicante. After the remarkable rescue, the hero just vanished until locals tracked him down a few days later. He told France 24 his story.
Early in the afternoon of December 6, a fire broke out in a small building in Denia, a port town in eastern Spain. The fire started in an apartment belonging to a man with disabilities, who, unable to move, was trapped amongst the flames, crying out for help. Suddenly, a young man wearing turquoise climbed up to the balcony from the street below, broke into the apartment and came out carrying the man. A neighbour took several photos of the rescue.
The rescuer, Gorgui Lamine Sow, is a 20-year-old man from Senegal. He says he doesn’t consider himself a hero. He told our team what happened.
'I didn’t stop to think'
I left my home that morning to go and work-- I am a street vendor who sells jewelry. I often sell my wares in restaurants. I try to sell the tourists jewelry once they have finished their lunch.
Around 1pm, I was crossing the street when I saw smoke coming out of Carrer del Port Street. I went up to the building to see what was happening. As I got closer, I saw that there were lots of people gathered around a small, two-story building. There was lots of smoke.
At that point, I heard a man calling for help out of the window. People said that a gas canister had already exploded inside the building and that the man trapped inside would surely suffocate. Four young men were trying to break down the door to the building to no avail.
The neighbours, who were gathered around the building were saying, “We hope that he doesn’t die, but we aren’t going to go inside. We can’t take the risk of dying as well; we have to think of our families.
At that moment, I just forgot everything. I dropped the bag containing my wares and I started climbing. I climbed up the wrought iron security door and then the balcony. I picked up the man from his wheelchair and put him over my shoulder. Then I went back out on the balcony and got down with the help of a ladder that the neighbours had brought over.
"I washed my hands and I went back to working"
I definitely didn’t think of the risks that I was taking when I did it. If I had stopped to think for even just one second, I never would have done it.
Afterwards, I washed my hands at a neighbour’s house and then I picked up my bags and I went back to working at Denia port.
I later learned that the neighbours were looking for me but they only had my photo and no way of contacting me.
On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, I sell my jewelry at the market to try and reach as many visitors as possible. Some of the other street vendors told me that people had come looking for me. These people asked the other vendors if they knew me and showed them the photos of me taken during the fire. They were saying things like: “He’s an extraordinary man; he’s special!”
'People were looking for me everywhere'
One of the neighbours had actually contacted the president of Globalmon, an NGO that helps people from Sub- Saharan Africa who are struggling in Spain. The president didn’t know Gorgui, but he said that he might be a street vendor and told the neighbour about the areas where vendors tend to sell their jewelry. In the end, someone from Globalmon found Gorgui:
I was working at the market in Torrecremada Square on December 9 when a member of the group came to see me. I didn’t want to tell him that I was the young man that everyone was looking for. I wanted to just forget that it had happened and move on with my life. But he told me that he had carried out a little investigation and noticed that I was wearing the same outfit in photos of my daughter’s baptism that I was wearing the day of the rescue. A waitress who works in Torrecremada Square had also recognised me. Later, Roberta [Editor’s note: the neighbour who took the photos] also recognised me in the street. Now everyone knows who I am!
The people of Denia launched a petition to get the local authorities to grant Gorgui legal status as he has been undocumented since he arrived in Spain at the age of 17. The petition has already garnered more than 83,000 signatures. The Spanish authorities said that they were going to take a closer look at Gorgui’s case before making a decision. In Paris back in 2018, a Malian migrant named Mamoudou Gassama saved a child who was dangling from a balcony after a fall. He was awarded French citizenship for his bravery.
Lamine Gorgui Sow said his life has already changed since his identity was revealed:
Ever since, I can’t even go out to work. People regularly come to visit me in the little room where I live with my family in Gandia (a town located 35 km north from Denia), everyone from journalists to lawyers who want to help me. The ministry already gave me papers that allow me to live in Spain - legally - until my next appointment. As for Alex, [Editor’s note: The man that Gorgui rescued], he is slowly recovering and life goes on.
Article by Fatma Ben Hamad