The child seemed to be suspended from a balcony. An adult nearby seemed helpless. Disaster seemed the only possible outcome.
Then, to the nimble rescue on the streets of Paris on Saturday night, a young man some Frenchmen called the Spiderman of the 18th, referring to the territory of Paris, where The episode unfolded.
Using a combination of grit, flexibility and muscle, the man pulled hand to hand from one balcony to another, jumping from one parapet to grab the next. A crowd that had gathered before he began his daredevil raid always pushed him upwards, according to the video that was widely distributed on social media.
Finally, the man reached the child and pulled him to safety. And suddenly an act of individual courage and ingenuity began to play in Europe's tense and polarized debate about outsiders, immigrants and refugees.
The man, identified as Mamadou Gassama, is a migrant from Mali, a troubled former French colony in northwest Africa. Mr. Gassama had longed for the documents needed to legally live in France, and his dream came true on Monday after meeting with President Emmanuel Macron.
"I told him that he would become legal out of gratitude for this heroic status as soon as possible," Mr Macron said in a statement on Facebook after meeting with Mr. Gassama at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
Mr. Macron added that the Paris firefighters were ready to welcome Mr. Gassama into their ranks and said he "invited" Mr Gassama to apply for French citizenship
. Gassama will be one of the lucky few. In 2017, only five people were granted a residence permit for "exceptional talent" or "community services" according to the statistics of the French Ministry of the Interior. There were six in 2016.
The meeting with Mr. Macron came after the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, also called to thank him for his " act of courage ."
"He explained to me that he came from Mali a few months ago and dreamed of building his life here" said the mayor on Twitter . "I told him that his heroic act is a role model for all citizens and that the city of Paris will obviously be very interested in supporting him in his efforts in France."
Even the anti-immigrant National Front Party offered to support Mr Gassama's application for a residence permit – but only in return for the expulsion of all other migrants living in France without official approval.
As for Mr Gassama, he told French reporters that his courage had shaken him. "I saw all these people screaming and cars ringing their horns," he said. "I climbed so high and thank God I saved the baby."
"I was scared when I rescued the child," he said, according to French News. I started to shake, I could barely get up. I had to sit down.