On Oct. 30, a popular nightlife district of Seoul, South Korea called Itaewon was packed for the first Halloween celebration since the COVID-19 pandemic. The area was expecting around 100 thousand individuals in the neighborhood, but the police were reportedly understaffed. What happened next was a tragedy that not many could have predicted. The streets of Itaewon are slimmer than most, and the large number of people led to a crowd crush in which many people were either trampled or suffocated. One alleyway was the scene where most of the tragedy occurred.
Perhaps the saddest part about the tragedy is that most of those who passed were college-aged students who were just about to start living their adult lives. Crowd crushes and stampedes can be fatal, and the lack of preparation for what to do in one can more often lead to this. South Korea has called a period of national mourning to honor the lives of those who were killed. Many families are still looking for their children, as many of the bodies and individuals in the hospital are unidentified.
One common theory about the lack of preparation in Itaewon relates to the fact that President Yoon Suk-yeol does not live and work out of the Blue House like all other presidents have, which is due to the “bad omens” his shaman said were there. He has extra police escorts with him due to his choice to operate outside of the state house. It is thought that the president’s need for extra police escorts and various protests around Seoul led to the understaffing. It is reported that only 137 cops were assigned to the area as opposed to the approximate 800 cops present before COVID-19.
Frustratingly enough, weeks earlier, popular K-pop boy group BTS had a concert in Busan that had 2,700 security officers present for a crowd half the size. Korean citizens are angry, but many are taking the time to grieve as collective trauma has begun to take over the nation, calling citizens back to the Sewol Ferry tragedy. During that time, 300 mostly high school children were killed due to mismanagement and greed of the ferry company that overcrowded the boat, causing it to sink and capsize. Many of the youth in Korea felt like the government had failed them then, and this sentiment is sadly returning.