South Korea’s crush on Itaewon: Selfies help families piece together tragedy that killed 158 people


Seoul
CNN

“She smiles, look at her smile, her face.” Oh Il-seok looks lovingly at a photo of his daughter taken in the last hours of her life. As he takes off his glasses to wipe his eyes, his wife whispers, “Ji-min is my friend, she is my best friend.

Oh Ji-min, 25, was among 158 people who died in a crush during Halloween festivities in Seoul’s Itaewon nightlife district on October 29.

Her parents have the unthinkable task of piecing together her final moments from selfies and photos taken on her cellphone.

At 9:35 p.m., the photos show Ji-min smiling inside a bar. At 9:59 p.m., she sends a message to a friend to tell her that she is going home. A few photos follow with other revelers in disguise, then, at 10:07 p.m., the last photo of Ji-min, smiling with her friend Kim.

The couple then headed for the subway, making their way through the masses. Within minutes they were caught in a panicked crowd and swept down a narrow alley where dozens of people are to die.

A photo of Ji-min and other partygoers taken minutes before the fatal lightning strike.  CNN has blacked out portions of this image to protect the identities of people in the background who have not consented to be photographed.

“We didn’t want to go down that alley…it was like we were sucked in,” recalls Kim, who asked to be identified only by her last name and spoke to CNN in the days before a memorial held for the victims. Friday.

“I separated from (Ji-min) as two other men were walking between us. When it happened, I lost my moccasins but my feet weren’t touching the ground and I was just moved by the crowd.

Official sources say the fatal crush began at 10:15 p.m., just eight minutes after Ji-min’s last selfie. The 158 deaths took place in the alley – about 4 meters (13 feet) wide – in which the two young women were carried. Besides the many young South Koreans and 26 foreigners who died, 196 people were injured, including Kim.

“Somebody in front of me fell and I fell too,” Kim said. “The next thing I realized was I was lying on top of a strange man and people were piling on top of me and others. I was on the second layer of that pile.

Hope came when she saw the face of a paramedic in front of her. He tried to pull out a woman but every time her body moved the pile of people screamed.

“We were already in a hurry but the attempt to pull her added more pain to us, so he had to stop,” Kim said.

A police officer who attended the scene said that by the time he arrived there was already a pile of bodies in the alley.

“We couldn’t get people out from down there, there was too much pressure, I guess they were already dead,” said the officer, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from his superiors.

“People in the second and third layers were disappearing, screaming for help, but we couldn’t pull them out.”

At least 156 people were killed when Halloween party goers were trapped in a massive crowd surge in Seoul, South Korea. Combing through the social media footage from that night, CNN’s Paula Hancocks investigates how the disastrous night unfolded. ” data-duration=”03:01″ data-source-html=” – Source:
CNN
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south korea survey screenshot

Video investigation: how a night of celebration turns into a disaster

His account matches that of a first responder who told CNN he saw up to “10 rows of faces (but) we couldn’t even see their legs.”

Kim’s memory of her own rescue is hazy. “I was taken out and spent time lying on the ground. I think I got lost for a while and woke up again. It was around 12:30 p.m. when I was transported in an ambulance.

“I was hospitalized one night and got discharged. I couldn’t walk until the next morning. I pinched my legs but felt nothing. I left the hospital but couldn’t feel my legs for about 10 days.

Bereaved father Oh Il-seok and mother Kim Eun-mi in Siheung City, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, on December 14, 2022.

Ji-min’s mother, Kim Eun-mi, had no idea her daughter was in Itaewon. She started to worry because Ji-min always came home early after a party.

“I met Ji-min for shopping that day because it was Saturday. After shopping, we had lunch together and she went to see her friend. So when I learned from my son that she had gone to Itaewon, I said, ‘no, she went to see her friend.’ »

Throughout the night, the family made frantic calls to Ji-min’s cellphone, hospitals and the police, visiting her apartment next door in case she had already come home.

At 1 p.m. the next afternoon, the family received a call asking them to come and identify Ji-min’s body at a hospital morgue.

“It’s really devastating to identify your own child,” Kim Eun-mi said. Between sobs, her husband added, “When I go to bed…this image comes to me so I can’t sleep.”

The family visits Ji-min every day at the memorial park near her home. Every sleepless night, Ji-min’s parents visit an online chat room that brings together family members of those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Kim Eun-mi said it’s helpful to talk to other people in the same situation, because only they can understand each other’s pain.

Grief darkens with unanswered questions and anger in the house where Ji-min grew up.

“The most difficult and frustrating part is that no one is held accountable. The tragedy happened, but no one is responsible,” said Kim Eun-mi.

An advisory group formed by the bereaved families of more than 97 crash victims has called for a formal apology from President Yoon Suk Yeol and demanded the removal of the country’s security minister for failing to prevent a tragedy.

While Yoon expressed his ‘condolences’ to the families, he paused before issuing an apology – saying ‘those specifically responsible’ should be held accountable.

Security Minister Lee Sang-min, speaking on October 30, said the tragedy could not have been avoided by dispatching police or firefighters in advance.

A special investigation is underway within the National Police Agency, but a parliamentary inquiry has not yet started due to internal political struggles.

So far, two police officers have been fired and arrested, accused of destroying an internal report on the risks associated with a large crowd gathering in Itaewon during Halloween festivities.

Former Yongsan district police chief Lee Im-jae is being investigated on suspicion of professional negligence and falsifying an official document, while former emergency surveillance officer Song Byung- joo is being investigated for suspected professional negligence.

The police officer who spoke to CNN expressed concern about the direction the investigation appears to be taking. He fears he is too focused on the mistakes made after the tragedy rather than the lack of safety planning in advance.

where a deadly Halloween crowd surge killed more than 150 people in Seoul, South Korea.” data-duration=”01:39″ data-source-html=” – Source:
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screengrab ripley will walk and talk

A CNN reporter returns to the narrow alley of Itaewon a day after the Halloween disaster. Look what it looks like

“The problem with this now is that the people who really should be responsible are not taking responsibility. The direction of the investigation does not look up, only down,” the policeman said.

“There may have been mistakes trying to save just one more life, but if you blame us, who would want to do this job.”

Ji-min’s parents said they haven’t heard from the government since their daughter’s funeral.

Politics has no place in the investigation, they said. They want facts about how and where their daughter died and answers to the more difficult question of why.

As they sift through a box of birthday cards and photos with friends salvaged from her daughter’s apartment, they struggle with a life-altering tragedy that should never have happened.

“She was so warm and lovely,” Kim Eun-mi said of her daughter. “She was such a lovely girl to me, but she’s not with me anymore.”

Her voice trailed off as sobs washed over her once more.

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