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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

This picture broke our heart. Now let's hope something changes.

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, 3, after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: AP Photo

By now, you've seen the photos. And if you're like so many of us, you cried.

The pictures are of a tiny Kurdish boy, identified as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his body washed up on a beach in Turkey. In one photo, he is utterly alone, face down on the shoreline. In another, a police officer cradles the child as he gently carries him away. The mind reels at the smallest of details -- the velcro strap hanging loose on the boy's tiny black sneaker, the latex gloves that cover the hands of the policeman.

It would be horrifying if it was just Aylan. But it's not. There are many more photos of many more children, some older than Aylan, some younger, all lifeless in the sand, each indescribably heartbreaking.

These are the youngest faces of the migration crisis wracking Europe and the area around the Mediterranean Sea. And though we have seen and heard hundreds of disturbing images and stories about desperate refugees, the visceral impact of these photos is astounding.

Aylan was part of a group of 23 people in two boats trying to sail from Turkey to Greece with the hope of ultimately reaching Canada, according to news reports. Aylan's boat capsized, and his body washed ashore only a few miles from where they set sail. Five children died, including his 5-year-old brother. His mother, Rihan, also drowned. Aylan's father, Abdullah, whose sister lives in Vancouver, survived.

The family was from Syria. They were among the millions of displaced Syrians trying to escape the country's vicious civil war. They traveled 800 miles to get to their boat on the coast. But how do we make sense of this, that the desire we all understand and feel to give our children a better, safer life could lead to a 3-year-old dead on a beach?

And still, war rages on, in Syria and elsewhere, with repercussions we can't fathom yet. The United Nations said Wednesday that more than 13 million children in the Middle East and North Africa have been driven from school. That's 40 percent of the school-age children in the area. In Syria, this is particularly stunning. The country once had one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Now there are many Syrian children, as old as 8 or 9, who have never set foot in a classroom.

I know it's naive to say just stop the fighting, although that is what must happen. But I don't have any other answers today. Only the hope that these images have the power to move the people who can make a difference in a way that nothing else has to this point.

His name was Aylan Kurdi.