Sewol victims families’ grief turns to anger

Posted on : 2014-04-21 12:15 KST Modified on : 2014-04-21 12:15 KST
No survivors found from sunken ferry, as desperate parents clash with authorities over lax response
 South Jeolla Province to march toward the Blue House
South Jeolla Province to march toward the Blue House

By Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter in Jindo

It was the clearest day yet since the family members of the missing made their way down to Jindo, an island off the southwest coast of South Jeolla Province. April 20 was the fourth day after the Sewol passenger ferry capsized in the waters nearby, and the skies were clear enough to have people of different faiths - or none at all - hoping for an Easter miracle.

But the murky ocean waters yielded no survivors.

At the entrance to Jindo Gymnasium, a site was set up to collect DNA samples. “Parents need to come by,” victims’ families were advised. “If there are no parents, an uncle will do.” Standing in a tent set up the morning before by the identification team for the police and prosecutors’ joint investigation headquarters, a mother held a DNA identification consent form, the words “For Investigation Use” marked on top it. “The things these people do,” she said with a hollow laugh. Outside the tent, a line of family members stretched for some distance. Mixed among them was a father howling with rage about his daughter being moved from the list of rescued passengers to the missing list. The family members of the missing passengers had dry mouths, and opening them took some effort. They knew the DNA collected on swabs from inside their cheeks wasn’t for the passengers who would come back alive. After the collection, many of them burst into tears. “Where’s my baby?” cried one. “It’s so cold,” said another. Most of the passengers were high school students, were younger than 18, too young to have had a resident registration card issued that could be used to check fingerprints.

 Apr. 20. (by Park Jong-shik
Apr. 20. (by Park Jong-shik

More sad news arrived at 1:30 am, with reports of the discovery of bodies inside the Sewol’s hull. Feeling they had to do something, the representatives of the missing passengers’ family members decided to board a bus and go to the Blue House to see President Park Geun-hye. By around 2 am, about 300 family members emerged from the gymnasium, wrapped in relief blankets. Their path was blocked by around 100 police officers. A scuffle soon broke out when the police attempted to stop family members from walking out onto a four-lane highway.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who had had water bottles chucked at him during an early morning visit to the gymnasium two days before, made another hurried visit to the building. He tried to calm the family members down, explaining that the government was “considering every possible approach.” But the family members, in their grief and anger, heard only empty promises. Chung’s vehicle was surrounded, and it was 5 am before he was able to leave the gymnasium.

Tired of waiting, the family members set out on a 10-kilometer trip along the side of the highway. Their plan to board the high-speed KTX train in Mokpo and head for Seoul. At about 7 am, they were surrounded in front of Jindo Bridge by three squadrons of police officers wearing fluorescent vests. Jeong Hye-suk, mother of missing Park Seong-ho (a student in Class 5 of the eleventh grade at Danwon High School in Ansan), cried out with a hoarse voice.

“What we want is for you to get the bodies out fast enough that we can still recognize their faces,” she said. “All I want is to look into my baby’s eyes one last time. All this time you say you’ve been doing a rescue effort, and we just can’t believe that anymore. That’s why we’re out here. Who are you serving with your politics? What happened to the President who said that every minute and every second was precious? I’m tired, and I’m struggling, and I’m ashamed to be seen like this. But I’m ashamed to be a citizen of this country. I’m ashamed that I couldn’t do anything as a parent. I‘m ashamed of the grown-ups who run this society.”

The family members began their march once again around 10 am. Once again, they were blocked by police. Holding up video cameras, the police began recording pictures of the family members as they chanted “The government are killers” and “Save our children.” The crowd erupted at the sight. “What are we, demonstrators?,” people cried. “Are we rioters?” The police hurried to hide the cameras.

“We stopped [the march] because it was obstructing traffic, and it was dangerous,” the police explained. “The squadron members appear to have recorded images out of habit.”

But no such grounds for stopping the march exist in the Act on the Performance of Duties by Police Officers. The families only stopped after receiving Prime Minister Chung’s promise to come back.

One of the relatives the Hankyoreh met that afternoon was a woman surnamed Im, the mother of missing second daughter identified by her surname Park. After hearing that Prime Minister Chung was meeting with family representatives again, Im went to the front of the gymnasium stage to find out the results of the meeting.

“I gave up yesterday,” she admitted. “But our oldest daughter said she had a dream. She said a bird was coming to take her little sister away, and when her sister said she didn’t want to go, the bird ended up not taking her. I heard that, and I decided to wait a little longer. I mean, it didn’t take her.”

“Our second daughter was the baby of the family,” she continued. “She was the kind of girl who was too scared to light the stove by herself. . . . It tears me up that I couldn’t do anything for her. Her eyes are bad, she can’t see anything without glasses. I wonder if she has them on right now. . . .” Tears welled in the corner of Im’s eyes as she talked about her daughter.

“The government is not doing this rescue properly. It’s been 100 hours now,” she added. “This tragedy is 100% man-made. But I believe there will be some kind of miracle. There is no way God could already be taking away children before they’ve even matured. He’ll bring them back.”

 calling on President Park Geun-hye to coordinate a stronger response to the sinking
calling on President Park Geun-hye to coordinate a stronger response to the sinking

After the meeting, Prime Minister Chung left without speaking with other family members at the gymnasium. Reporters who asked why he wasn’t speaking were told that he had a “briefing” to attend. Representatives of the family members demanded a clear explanation of the rescue effort, family-centered funeral procedures, and a hotline between family members and the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

A caption appeared on the large screen in the gymnasium, reading, “Student IDs for a ‘Heo X’ (male) and ‘Kim X’ (male) found on three recovered bodies.” The screen was installed after President Park Geun-hye visited Jindo, promising to provide real-time information to victims’ families.

“The government needs to take responsibility,” cried one mother, her voice echoing through the building.

Criticizing the government’s belated response, one parent who works at an industrial complex in Ansan said, “I sometimes think the reason the rescue effort has been so slow is because they look down on [Ansan] as an industrial park area.”

Jeong Seok-jae, 42, is a pastor at Ansan Panworl Church, which was attended by five of the students from Danwon High School.

“The family members have said that things are not looking any better,” Jeong said. “A lot of them felt not just grief over the loss of their children, but a sense of betrayal at the way the government responded.

“Easter is supposed to be the happiest day of the year for the church. I just hope Ansan hears some good news.“

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won closes his eyes in a car after talking to family members of missing passengers from the Sewol ferry in Jindo
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won closes his eyes in a car after talking to family members of missing passengers from the Sewol ferry in Jindo


Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Most viewed articles