SEOUL, South Korea — On the somber anniversary of the devastating Halloween crush in Seoul that claimed 159 lives, the grieving families of the victims gathered for a massive memorial service, demanding an independent investigation into the disaster. The crush, one of South Korea's most significant peacetime tragedies, unfolded in Itaewon, a vibrant nightlife district in Seoul, during Halloween celebrations predominantly attended by individuals in their 20s and 30s.
To commemorate the anniversary, families visited the Itaewon area, laying flowers and offering condolences at the alley where the tragedy occurred. Tears flowed near a wall adorned with countless condolence messages on post-it notes. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I couldn't protect you. I loved you," expressed Song Jin Young, 55, the father of one of the victims.
In Itaewon, accompanied by supporters, families participated in multi-faith prayer services for their loved ones. Chanting slogans urging President Yoon Suk Yeol for a more sincere apology and calling for Safety Minister Lee Sang-min's resignation, they marched through Seoul, culminating in a memorial service at a square that drew thousands.
During a poignant speech, Lee Jeong-min, a representative for the families, called on President Yoon to support the legislation of a special law for an independent investigation into the disaster. "The special law would be the most important legislation to find the cause of the Itaewon disaster and discuss the prevention of recurrences of similar incidents," Lee emphasized.
Opposition politicians criticized President Yoon for his absence at the ceremony and pledged to pass the special law to uncover the truth behind the tragedy. Though some participants reportedly voiced displeasure at a ruling party official, the memorial concluded without major incidents. The crowd paid tribute to each of the 159 victims, shouting "We'll remember you" and placing flowers before their photos at an altar—a poignant reminder of the collective grief and the pursuit of justice that unites these families.
The absence of President Yoon Suk Yeol from the memorial service for the Halloween crush victims in Seoul has drawn sharp criticism from the grieving families who extended an invitation. Instead, President Yoon opted for a service at a Seoul church, prompting speculation that political considerations led to his decision. Yoon's office, while not explicitly clarifying the absence, faced media reports suggesting concerns about potential political exploitation by rivals.
At the church service, Yoon expressed profound sadness on the anniversary, declaring it the day "when I felt the greatest sadness in all my life." Offering sympathy to the bereaved families, he pledged to contribute to building a safer South Korea. However, his absence from the memorial event intensified demands for accountability.
In January, a police special investigation highlighted failures in crowd control measures by police and municipal officials, despite anticipating a significant gathering in Itaewon. The report revealed lapses, including ignored hotline calls from pedestrians warning of overcrowding before the fatal surge. Over 20 officials are reportedly on trial, but the absence of charges against top-level officials fuels the families' and opposition lawmakers' call for an independent probe.
This year's Halloween celebrations in South Korea reflected a somber tone, with many establishments eschewing themed events in memory of the victims. In Itaewon and other entertainment zones, only a handful embraced Halloween costumes, emphasizing a collective reverence for the lives lost. As the families persist in their pursuit of justice, the specter of the tragedy looms over the nation, underscoring the need for accountability and preventing a recurrence of such heart-wrenching disasters.
In the aftermath of the Halloween crush memorial service in Seoul, the absence of President Yoon Suk Yeol has deepened the anguish of grieving families seeking answers. Yoon's decision to attend a church service instead has sparked controversy, with speculation about political motivations overshadowing the solemn occasion. As families grapple with the tragic anniversary, Yoon's pledge to build a safer South Korea rings hollow without his presence at the memorial.
The findings of the police special investigation, revealing lapses in crowd control measures and the ignored warnings, underscore the urgent need for accountability. While over 20 officials face trial, the absence of charges against high-ranking figures intensifies the families' and opposition lawmakers' call for an independent probe.
This year's subdued Halloween celebrations reflect a collective effort to honor the victims, emphasizing the somber reality that lingers over Itaewon and other entertainment zones. As the families persist in their pursuit of justice, the tragedy serves as a stark reminder of the imperative to prevent future disasters and hold those in power accountable. The concluding echoes are those of grief, resilience, and the unwavering call for transparency and justice in the face of heartbreaking loss.