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A year after South Korea’s Halloween crowd crush, victims’ families still seek justice: 'Law won’t bring our children back'

Almost a year since South Korea’s horrific Halloween crowd crush, families are still grappling with grief as they continue to call for justice following the disaster that killed 159 mostly young people in Seoul’s Itaewon nightlife district.

The revellers, including 26 foreigners, were crushed to death in a narrow, hilly alleyway after huge throngs surged through the bottleneck with no police to control the crowds.

A government investigation concluded in January that police and other government agencies failed to control crowds, although an estimated 130,000 partygoers were expected.

The victims’ families have been holding protests and vigils, arguing the government investigation was not thorough enough to drive accountability for one of the worst disasters in this country.

Chung Mi-ra, whose daughter Lee Ji-hyun died in the crush a month before her wedding, has over the past year travelled every week to Seoul from the southern city of Jeonju to attend memorial services at the Seoul Plaza in the city centre, catching the first train and returning home on the last train.

It is a lonely, uphill battle, but the bereaved families’ desire to find out the truth and punish those responsible remains elusive.

“A special law won’t bring our children back to life, but they want us to get to the bottom of the tragedy,” Chung said.

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Itaewon has gradually recovered its lively atmosphere over the past year, with merchants reporting business returning to pre-tragedy levels.

But it is hard to find signs of this year’s Halloween.

It was a far cry from last year, when stores, cafes and nightclubs were adorned with Halloween decoration, and costumes and celebratory events were advertised.

“Last year, we decorated the store for Halloween and even sold customised desserts, but we stopped doing so immediately after the tragedy,” said Kang, 40, a cafe owner in Itaewon.

“The atmosphere is not right for celebrating Halloween this year,” he said, adding he plans to decorate his store with Christmas decorations instead of Halloween trinkets.

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