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Itaewon crowd crush: Families of victims continue to seek answers one year on

SEOUL: Fairy lights draped across the window, books neatly placed on a study table, and illustrations lining a wall. Ms Lee Sang Eun’s room is exactly the way it was a year ago, except for fresh flowers lending a burst of colours.

The room has been left untouched since the day Ms Lee died in a fatal crowd crush in Itaewon in South Korean capital Seoul during Halloween celebrations on Oct 29 last year, but her mother spruces it up with fresh flowers without fail. 

She says a few words and a prayer to her daughter, who would have been 26 this year. It is her way of coping, one year on.

“I keep thinking maybe Sang Eun will come back, maybe even in another form. I place flowers there daily because I want to keep her room alive,” Madam Sunny Kang, Ms Lee’s mother, told CNA.

“If there are no fresh flowers or anything with life, then I think the fact that Sang Eun is really not here anymore will really hit me hard.”

Ms Lee was at Itaewon with her friends to celebrate passing the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) exam. She had wanted to further her studies in the United States with her new qualifications.


Mdm Kang was not at home when the tragedy took place, as she had left early that morning to go on a hiking trip with her husband and friends.

“I knew where she would go and so we went on the trip. When we last talked, she said she was ready to go out and said I shouldn’t call her again because she was going to have a good time. The last time I sent a message was around 9.30pm, saying ‘have fun, sleep well and goodnight’’, she said. 

She saw the news on TV the next morning and called her daughter to check that she was safe, but instead, the police answered.

At first, Mdm Kang thought Ms Lee must have lost her phone, but received the tragic news that her daughter was among the more than 100 people who had died.


The government released a report in January blaming more than 20 police and other government officials for failing to take precautionary measures and bungling rescue operations.

Several police officers and government officials were charged with criminal offences including negligence.

But the public, especially victims’ families, have questioned why senior officials like the Interior Minister and Seoul city mayor have not been held accountable.

They meet every weekend and march in downtown Seoul outside a makeshift memorial, calling for an independent investigation into the cause of the disaster.

Ahead of Halloween this year, authorities put in place new safety measures, such as a new crowd-monitoring system. An exercise simulating a crowd crush and the government’s emergency response was also held.

However, there has been little need for such measures, as the once-popular nightlife district is just a shadow of its former self, with no crowds to be seen these days.


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