South Korean parents bury children killed in Halloween disaster

“Dad, I’m going out” were the last words Jung Hae-moon heard his daughter say at the end of a phone call on Saturday, as she turned down an invitation to dinner. Hours later, Jung Joo-hee, 30, was among 156 people, most of them in their teens and 20s, killed in the South Korean capital as they celebrated Halloween free of COVID restrictions for the first time in three years.

On Thursday, the young woman’s family buried her ashes at a peaceful family property outside of Seoul, with a seedling planted and bouquets of flowers next to her gravestone, in a somber ceremony of prayers and tears. “Rest well. Mum and Dad will come visit you,” Jung Hae-moon said as the family stood by along with his daughter’s poodle.

As news of the disaster spread on Saturday, Jung Hae-moon raced to Itaewon, a neighborhood of narrow streets lined with bars and boutiques, to find chaos as deranged youths in their Halloween costumes milled around and lines of ambulances were collecting casualties . More than 12 hours later, he found Joo-hee lifeless, swollen and bruised in a morgue.

Joo-hee’s mother, Lee Hyo-sook, said her daughter is a joy, a best friend who loves animals and wine. “The space she leaves is too big. The place she left in the family is too much, the emptiness,” Lee told Reuters after the funeral, speaking at a coffee shop that Joo-hee ran.

The café is locked with a black sign that reads “In Sorrow”. The anguish of Joo-hee’s family is felt by all 156 bereaved families when a traditional three-day wake comes to an end and their loved one is placed in a coffin for a final viewing before burial or cremation.

Their grief is shared by the entire county as they struggle to come to terms with the disaster that ended so many young lives in one evening of fun. Of the 156 dead, 101 were women, the government said.

Another grieving father, Song Jae-woong, said his daughter Young-ju, 24, is a gentle soul who became quick friends with classmates, more than 200 of whom attended her funeral. Young-ju dreamed of becoming an actress, her father said while speaking at a funeral home in Seoul.

“Then that’s how things developed,” Song said. “Her friends told me that my daughter had a habit of looking for everyone and befriending them. She had a kind soul.”

“It’s all over now.” ‘IMPOSSIBLE’

Little did some families know their children were even in the crowd at Itaewon entertainment district on Saturday night. “I had no idea she was there. It was impossible, I couldn’t believe it,” Lim’s father said at a funeral home as he and his family watched funeral rites.

The father requested that he and his daughter only be identified by their surname, Lim. The man usually lives abroad and hadn’t seen his only child for three years as COVID disrupted travel. He first heard about the disaster when an acquaintance texted him about it, unaware that their daughter was involved.

Struggling with grief, he pulled out his phone to show the message. “She was so creative and pretty,” the man said, adding that he often strolled around Itaewon with his daughter. He parked her car at the Hamilton Hotel next to the alley where Lim died.

“I know this street very well.” For many parents, anger seethes with sadness.

They wonder why their children celebrate Halloween at all, a completely alien concept to older Koreans. But the biggest question for many mourning their children is why no security measures were taken to control the crowds.

“I’m beyond angry. It’s outrageous because in any emergency situation, the country should protect its people and protect them,” said Lee, Joo-hee’s mother.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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