In a quiet room in Seoul, memories of Choi Min-seok linger. His personal belongings, including photographs and keepsakes, paint a vivid picture of a young man with dreams. A note from his mother in his wallet, urging him to remain safe and joyous, is a poignant reminder of their bond. His remains, now jade-like stones, rest in a pouch.
Choi, at 19, aspired to be a nurse after fulfilling his mandatory military duties. His medical school attire remains untouched, hanging as a testament to his unfulfilled dreams. “I can’t come to terms with his absence,” laments his mother, Kim Hee-jung, from Choi’s room. “For us parents, even though we breathe, it feels like we’ve lost our essence,” she adds, reflecting on the tragedy.
The fateful evening of 29th October 2022 witnessed a catastrophic crowd surge during the Halloween festivities in the Itaewon district of Seoul. With the pandemic restrictions lifted, the event saw an overwhelming turnout. However, the narrow lanes near the subway became death traps, claiming 159 lives, including 26 foreigners. The majority of the victims were young souls, and the incident has left a void in many families.
The aftermath has been marred with controversies. Families of the deceased allege that the authorities have been deflecting blame, insinuating drug involvement of the victims. The pleas for an impartial investigation to ascertain accountability have fallen on deaf ears.
Despite a police report terming the incident as a “man-made catastrophe” due to inadequate precautions and delayed official response, no one has been held criminally responsible. The silence from the authorities, including President Yoon Suk Yeol, has only deepened the wounds.
In a shocking twist, Kim Gi-hyeon, the leader of the ruling party, insinuated that the public outpouring of grief and demands for justice might be influenced by North Korea.
Kim Hee-jung questions the integrity of the internal investigations. “How can they ascertain the truth without engaging with us, the families?” she asks. Lee Jeong-min, mourning the loss of his 28-year-old daughter, Lee Joo-young, echoes the sentiment, “The circumstances remain unclear. We just want to understand the reasons behind our children’s untimely demise.”