After Sewol, Itaewon disasters, young Koreans ask how many more friends’ funerals they’ll have to attend

Posted on : 2022-11-25 16:51 KST Modified on : 2022-11-25 16:51 KST
Many notes left at the site of the horrific tragedy in Itaewon made mention of the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry
Handwritten messages fill the memorial space outside Exit 1 of Itaewon Station in Yongsan District, Seoul, on Nov. 7.
Handwritten messages fill the memorial space outside Exit 1 of Itaewon Station in Yongsan District, Seoul, on Nov. 7.

The Itaewon disaster, which claimed the lives of many young people, recalls memories of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster in which more than 200 Korean high schoolers perished. Among the thousands of notes commemorating the victims at Exit 1 of Itaewon Station, 26 directly mentioned the Sewol.

“Eight years ago, when I lost friends in the Sewol ferry disaster, I thought those were my last tears, but now I’ve lost friends again. I really hope this is the last time I lose someone.... I miss you, my friends. 2022.11.04 REMEMBER221029,” read one.

Those who have lived through both the Sewol ferry disaster when they were in their teens and now the Itaewon disaster in their 20s undoubtedly feel a strong sense of loss. Nevertheless, there are still several among them who say they will change this society for the better.

“My heart aches for losing my friends in the Sewol ferry disaster when I was 19 and now in the Itaewon disaster when I'm 27. Now as an adult, I feel sorry when I think that the responsibility also lies with me. The state and government, which have the right to protect its people, failed to function properly. From now on, I will put efforts into trying to solve these problems.”

“Those of us born in 1997 lost our friends of the same age in the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster and now again with the 2022 Itaewon crush disaster. We will never forget this. We will definitely create a society where safety and respect for life come first.”

“Losing my peers in the Sewol ferry disaster in 10th grade and now again another tragedy taking away friends when I’m 26. They were young people with bright futures ahead of them. It's so regrettable and bitter, I'm infuriated. I pray for the repose of those who have now become stars in the sky. I will change the world by speaking out and taking action.”

The generation of parents who have witnessed the Sewol ferry disaster and the tragedy in Itaewon also wrote of their feelings of responsibility and expressed their remorse.

“I had written that I was sorry for not being able to protect you during the Sewol ferry disaster, but this father who is writing once again is truly sorry.”

“Every year when I tell my children about the Sewol ferry disaster it’s not easy, and although my heart aches, I will continue talking with them deeply [about this] for as long as possible so that we don’t forget and so that the same thing does not happen again. I hope your pain wasn’t too great and that you weren’t too cold.”

“How much we cried during the Sewol ferry disaster. What did we do during all that time? Those heading the government departments in charge half-assed it through incompetence and corruption. This is definitely a man-made disaster.”

“April 16, 2014, Sewol ferry disaster. Oct. 29, 2022, Itaewon disaster. We had definitely made a promise to create a safe society. I’m sorry. We will definitely create this [society] together. A Korea where it’s safe to get around.”

How the data was collected

The Hankyoreh Itaewon disaster reporting team (reporters Ko Byung-chan, Kwak Jin-san, Park Ji-young, Seo Hye-mi, Lee Woo-yun, Jang Ye-ji, Jang Hyeon-eun, Jeon Gwang-jun, and Chai Yoon-tae) visited the memorial space set up near Exit 1 of Itaewon Station from Oct. 30 till Nov. 7. All of the notes of commemoration left there by citizens were captured in 356 photos.

Besides those notes that were stuck together, damaged or difficult to read, a total of 3,584 notes were selected and transcribed one by one. The Hankyoreh’s media planning tech team used a morphological analyzer to classify the 148,398 characters and selected 275 words, excluding grammatical particles, that appeared more than 11 times.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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