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Korean Church leaders urged to support Halloween crush probe

Some 159 people died in a stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon district on Oct. 29, 2022
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol lays a flower at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the deadly Halloween crowd surge on Nov. 1, 2022

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol lays a flower at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the deadly Halloween crowd surge on Nov. 1, 2022. (Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: January 18, 2024 11:58 AM GMT
Updated: January 18, 2024 12:17 PM GMT

The family members of South Korea’s deadly Halloween crush tragedy have met with top religious leaders seeking their support to implement a law aimed at investigating the cause behind the disaster.

The family members met with Kim Jong-saeng, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) on Jan. 17 in Seoul and called for his support, Yonhap News Agency reported.

Kim said that he was “saddened and overwhelmed,” at the painful journey that the family members were undertaking to uncover the truth behind the death of their family members.

"I will do my best together with neighboring religious groups so that the special law can be promulgated as soon as possible,” Kim assured the family members.

The Oct. 29, 2022, crowd crush resulted in the deaths of 159 people in Seoul’s Itaewon district and sparked widespread outrage across the nation over the botched response at many levels and raised questions over who was responsible for the tragedy.

South Korea’s national assembly passed the Itaewon Disaster Special Act on Jan. 9, which provided for the establishment of a special committee to investigate the truth behind the deadly Itaewon disaster.

The bill was introduced by the liberal Democratic Party (DP) which controls the assembly and was boycotted by the conservative People Power Party (PPP).

In April 2023, the DP first proposed the bill for a special investigation committee to find out the true causes of the disaster, the responsible parties, and ways to prevent a recurrence of such an event.

The bill also had provisions for the family members of the victims to participate in the process.

Lee Jeong-min, chair of the steering committee of the Itaewon Disaster Bereaved Families Association (Yugahyup) voiced his hope that they would receive support from the religious community.

"The truth of the tragedy should be clarified through a special law, those responsible should be held accountable, and the honor of the 159 victims who lived faithfully every day should be restored,” Lee said.

“I hope that the religious community will pay attention and be with us until the end," Lee added.

The family members had also met with Bishop Mathias Ri Iong-hoon of Suwon, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, urging support for speedy implementation of the legislation before the “memory of the witnesses fades.”

Ri conveyed his condolences to the bereaved family members and said "the suffering of the children at the site must have been great, but now God will watch over us on earth."

Earlier Lawmakers had promoted outlandish conspiracies: one claimed the crowd crush was caused by vegetable oil poured on the ground by opposition-linked labor union operatives, while another insinuated the deaths were due to illegal drugs, AFP reported.

An official police investigation found no evidence for either claim.

Seoul's last conservative government had lost power in part due to its mishandling of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster, which killed more than 300.

Reportedly, the victims’ families have also faced a deluge of disparaging comments on social media platforms.

They even saw a public memorial altar being picketed by far-right YouTubers who hurled abuse at the victims and their families while live-streaming, AFP reported.

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