Photo of Drowned Syrian Boy Triggers Global Heartbreak

The Syrian conflict's latest victim brings the trauma of millions of refugees to the world's attention

Sep 02, 2015 at 1:05 PM ET

It took one little boy from Syria and the image of his lifeless body washed ashore to trigger an unprecedented wave of horror, heartbreak and outrage over Europe’s growing refugee crisis.

Clad in a bright red shirt and shorts, the toddler was found on Wednesday lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s tony resort town of Bodrum, where pictures of him were taken. He was one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned in an attempt to reach the Greek island of Kos, according to reports.

The photographs capture the full scale of desperation, risk and tragedy afflicting millions who are fleeing the war-torn regions of Africa and the Middle East. While the U.N. says more than 2,500 people have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean, and thousands more have documented the perilous journey on social media, few, if any, have elicited such an immediate and emotional response.

Outlets around the world published the graphic photos  Wednesday and thousands shared them on social media. The hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik, which translates to “humanity washed ashore,” was tweeted more than 3,600 times in just two hours. It’s been shared by thousands more without the hashtag, who have expressed their anger and grief with raw, terse language.

Warning: Image may be too graphic for some readers.