When 10-year-old Maxim McFarland awoke in the hospital last week after nearly dying in the Androscoggin River, the first thing he did was ask about his little brother.
Maxim had jumped into the fast-moving river to save 5-year-old Valerio.
“When he was still intubated, he asked me. Even though he couldn’t talk, he mouthed at me asking where (Valerio) was,” the boys’ mother, Helena Gagliano-McFarland, said, holding back tears while her husband bowed his head and wrung his hands next to her.
On Tuesday, the boys’ parents pleaded for people to help find Valerio’s body and bring him home to his family.
“With the conditions on the river, there is the possibility that he might be swept out to sea if he hasn’t already,” his mother said tearfully. “We want to just be able to recover him so we can give him a proper burial.”
At the same time, the parents begged anyone who wishes to help with the search to work with the Maine Warden Service — and to stay safe.
“I do ask you all to be very, very cautious,” said the boys’ father. “We don’t need further injury.”
Gagliano-McFarland and McFarland spoke to reporters Tuesday, breaking their silence for the first time since their boys were swept away by the river a week before.
In a conference room at Maine Medical Center in Portland, the hospital caring for Maxim, the couple were accompanied by a half-dozen relatives and friends — two of whom spoke when the parents were overcome by grief and struggled to talk.
The parents said their boys had been playing in Bonney Park in Auburn, close to the home the family had moved into just four days before.
The mother was in the house, the father outside with the boys, when Valerio fell into the nearby river. Maxim was the first to jump in to try to save him. Their 8-year-old sister and father quickly followed.
“It happened literally in the blink of an eye,” their mother said.
McFarland said his sons had most likely been skipping stones on the water when Maxim fell into the rushing water.
“I’ve never seen a river so angry,” he said.
The family credited a quick-acting, off-duty firefighter, first responders and doctors for saving Maxim’s life. Admitted to Maine Medical Center in critical condition, Maxim is now listed in fair condition and able to move freely, speak and eat solid foods — including the only thing he wanted for dinner Monday: red velvet cake.
“It’s amazing how he’s turning around,” his father said.
Doctors told the family they expect Maxim to make a full recovery, with no lasting effects from the ordeal. The boy will require physical, occupational and speech therapies.
His mother called it “nothing short of miraculous.”
But while they marveled at the recovery of their older son, they mourned the loss of the younger. The family has set up a Facebook page under the name Valerio McFarland to coordinate volunteers interested in searching for their son.
Gagliano-McFarland also publicly pleaded with Gov. Paul LePage to deploy the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard or other resources to help search for Valerio. She said the governor had been to the restaurant she and her husband once ran in Augusta.
“He had told us that whatever we needed, whatever he could do for us, to just let him know,” she said, breaking into sobs. “I have left him a voicemail. I am hoping that he will hear my plea to please help find my little boy.”
In recent days, family members have created YouCaring and GoFundMe pages to raise money for the couple. Gagliano-McFarland and her husband said Tuesday they want donations from those sites to go toward making the riverbank safer, including fencing and safety buoys that could be tossed by someone on land to someone in the water.
“We don’t want this to happen to any other child,” she said. “His death, we don’t want it to be for nothing.”