Days after Itaewon disaster, families say final goodbyes at first funerals for victims

Posted on : 2022-11-02 16:02 KST Modified on : 2022-11-02 16:02 KST
Funerals have been held for 67 of the 156 victims of the Itaewon crush so far
A handwritten note sits among white chrysanthemums on Nov. 1 at a joint memorial altar for those killed in the Itaewon crowd surge. (Yoon Woon-sik/The Hankyoreh)
A handwritten note sits among white chrysanthemums on Nov. 1 at a joint memorial altar for those killed in the Itaewon crowd surge. (Yoon Woon-sik/The Hankyoreh)

The time was 7:50 am Tuesday at Seoul Crematorium in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. The father of a Ms. Kim (26), a victim of the Itaewon crowd crush, was sobbing as brought his daughter’s coffin into the building. Around 20 people, including the deceased’s younger sister, who was holding her portrait, her mother, and several relatives and friends were also sobbing as they entered the building.

Three days after the tragedy in Itaewon that claimed 156 lives, the remains of victims are beginning to be laid to rest at funeral homes and crematoriums across Korea. Ms. Kim’s family headed to Seoul Crematorium at 6:00 am on Tuesday after her coffin was borne out of St. Mary’s Hospital in Bucheon.

At 7:52 am, Ms. Kim’s family said their last goodbyes behind glass windows. As the white curtain was lowered, the family’s sobs grew louder. Ms. Kim, who sent a text message saying that she would be going home at 10 pm on Saturday, came back to her family’s arms three days later at 9 am in the form of a box of ashes wrapped in a golden cloth.

“No parent would be in their right mind after seeing their child pass away at such a young age,” said the deceased’s uncle (53).

“She never even got a chance to blossom into the person she could be,” he added, trailing off.

The waiting room for Ms. Kim’s family was full of heavy silence broken only by sighs and sniffles as they waited for the cremation process, which usually takes an hour, to end.

Meanwhile, just down the hall, others were deep in conversation about the Itaewon tragedy. A woman in a black mourning dress said, “My acquaintance’s son is a university student, and he said that he was going to go to Itaewon that day. My acquaintance got up in the middle of the night, saw news about the incident, and went to check if her son had come back safely. Fortunately, he’d come in and was asleep.”

A middle-aged man sporting an armband denoting his status as a chief mourner listened to her and said, “The Halloween festival in Hongdae got canceled, apparently. I never really knew what Halloween was, until now.”

At 11:30 am, the funeral of Ms. Lee (26) took place at the memorial hall of Sahmyook Medical Center, Dongdaemun District, Seoul, surrounded by 50 family members, friends and relatives.

Friends and relatives, who visited the mortuary about 50 minutes before the funeral to say their last goodbyes, were a sea of tears as the funeral began. Ms. Lee’s parents boarded the hearse as if they were about to collapse, calling out the name of their only daughter that had left them behind.

The funeral of Kim (24) was held at 8 am on the same day at the funeral hall of Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, Seoul. About 20 police officers in the jurisdiction visited the scene and waited for the ceremony. Kim’s friends who had facilitated the wake throughout the funeral period organized snacks in the hall, keeping calm as they prepared to let go of their friend. A black limousine appearing to be the hearse and a white limousine boarded by Kim’s family and acquaintances left the underground parking lot of the funeral hall one after another.

Lee (22)’s funeral was held at 1:20 pm at the funeral hall of Dongguk University Ilsan Hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. Before moving to the Seoul Crematorium, two people who appeared to be Lee’s parents wailed loudly in an embrace. The cry continued while Lee’s coffin was loaded into the funeral car.

The funeral of Choi (26), who was placed in the funeral hall of the same hospital, was also held on Tuesday. Some 20 to 30 relatives of the deceased left the hall, their expressions twisted and tearstained. A woman was seen reaching out her arm to support a man whose wailing had turned his face red, appearing to be having trouble accepting the sudden loss. The cries of the bereaved family rang in the hallway on the first basement floor of the funeral hall.

The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters said 67 out of 156 victims of the Itaewon disaster had been cremated so far.

By Seo Hye-mi, staff reporter; Nam Ji-hyeon, staff reporter; Ko Byung-chan, staff reporter; Kim Min-je, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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