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Tragedy in Itaewon, South Korea Provokes Countrywide Grief and Protest

Tragedy in Itaewon, South Korea Provokes Countrywide Grief and Protest

On Oct. 29, the largest post-pandemic Halloween celebration in South Korea occurred in Itaewon on, a neighborhood within the capital city of Seoul, and resulted in a deadly crowd surge due to an overcrowding of people in a narrow alleyway.

Among the estimated 100,000 people celebrating Halloween in Itaewon on, 156 people were killed in the crush with approximately 130 more people being injured. Many attendees of the celebration were South Korean youth, as Itaewon on has gained prominence as having trendy nightlife, which includes its many Halloween festivities.

Anne Gieske and Steven Blesi, the two Americans out of the 26 foreigners confirmed to have died in the crowd surge, were both 20-year-old college students. Gieske was a nursing major at the University of Kentucky studying abroad in South Korea and Blesi was studying international business at Kennesaw State University.

Despite the massive crowd involved in the incident, a mere 137 police officers were called to the scene. This decision has put many South Korean officials in question with many left wondering if more aid could have prevented the significant loss that now makes this incident one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters in history.

Jeong Hye-yoon, a 35-year-old that lives in an area near Itaewon, offered perspective on the incident’s lack of police presence as a local. 

Hye-yoon said, “Large crowds gather in this area every year. But they were left on their own without any preparations to prevent a huge accident from happening.”

In light of the crowd surge, President Yoon Suk-yeol mandated a weeklong period of mourning for South Korea the day after the tragedy, closing many businesses and postponing or canceling events for the week. This is only the second time in the country’s history this type of mandate has been enacted. South Korea also assembled a 475 person police task force to examine what caused the incident. 

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said, “The government will thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident and do its best to make necessary improvements of systems to prevent a similar accident from recurring.”

Following the country’s formal mourning period, the largest among the many vigils both honoring and protesting the losses of the incident was organized by Candlelight Action. They are a group of numerous progressive organizations, held near Seoul’s City Hall. Many held signs of desperation for President Yoon to step down, with one reading, “Stepping down is an expression of condolence.”

Wearing black clothing and facemasks, attendees took a minute of silence while facing the alley in which the incident occurred before bowing their heads and silently walking through Itaewon’s streets.

Many are outraged that South Korean officials took such a lax approach in handling the crowd surge considering the tragedy of Sewol, a ferry that sank in 2014 and killed over 300 high schoolers.

One speaker at Candlelight Action’s vigil asked, “What kind of lesson did we learn from the Sewol incident?”

The same speaker also said, “The government is not fulfilling its responsibility, it has pushed it to the youth.”


Image Courtesy of Getty Images via BBC.

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Tragedy in Itaewon, South Korea Provokes Countrywide Grief and Protest