Seoul, South Korea — South Korean police are opening criminal charges, including manslaughter and negligence, against 23 officials, about half of them law enforcement officers, for a lack of security they say is responsible for Crowd surge on Halloween that nearly 160 people died, including at least two Americans, both college students.
Despiteforecasting a weekend crowd of more than 100,000, Seoul police deployed 137 officers to the capital’s Itaewon nightlife district on the day of the raid. Those officers have been focused on monitoring drug use and violent crime, which experts say leaves few resources for pedestrian safety.
Song Jae-han, who led the National Police Service’s special investigation into the incident, said on Friday that his team will now refer the case to the prosecutor’s office. Among those recommended for indictment are Park Hee-young, who is the mayor of Seoul’s Yongsan district, and former district police chief Lee Im-jae, two of the six arrested.
Lee was also charged with falsifying a police report to disguise his late arrival at the scene. Two other police officers were arrested on suspicion of attempting to destroy computer files and other possible evidence related to the incident.
The results of the 74-day police investigation, announced by Son, largely confirmed what was already clear — that police and government officials in Yongsan failed to implement significant crowd control measures for the expected number of Halloween revelers and essentially ignored calls from pedestrians to police hotlines that warned of a growing crowd hours before the surge turned deadly on Oct. 28.
Officials also botched their response when people were knocked over and crushed in a narrow alley filled with revelers near the Hamilton Hotel around 10 p.m., failing to establish effective control of the scene and preventing rescuers from getting to the victims in time, Son said.
“(Their) imprecise assessment of the situation, slow dissemination of information about the situation, poor cooperation between related agencies and delays in rescue operations were among the overlapping failures that led to the high number of casualties,” Son said at a news conference in Seoul.
Son said his team interviewed nearly 540 people and collected 14,000 pieces of evidence from central and municipal government agencies and transportation authorities. He said police investigators examined more than 180 video files recorded on security cameras or filmed by journalists and pedestrians, and examined the scene with forensic experts to analyze the density of the crowd.
Around 9 p.m., the crowd that filled the corridor-like alley between the hotel and a dense row of storefronts grew into an uncontrollable wave, with people unable to control their movements as they were overwhelmed, police said. Around 10:15 p.m., people started falling and toppling over each other like dominoes, resulting in a tragedy that resulted in 158 deaths and 196 injuries.
Analysis of CCTV footage and simulations by the National Forensic Science Service show that around 10:15 p.m. the density of the crowd in the alley was about eight people per square yard. The density increased to eight to nine people occupying the same unit of space as at 10:20 p.m. and about 9-11 people as of 10:25 p.m., police said.
It was difficult for paramedics to reach the scene because the area was very dense. Those who arrived were so overwhelmed by the number of people lying motionless on the ground that they asked pedestrians to help them perform CPR. Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation or brain damage, police said.
It remains unclear whether the results of the police investigation will be enough to calm public anger and demands for government accountability as the country continues to cope with its worst disaster in nearly a decade.
Opposition lawmakers and some relatives of the victims have demanded investigations into more prominent figures such as Home Affairs and Security Minister Lee Sang-min and National Police Agency Commissioner-General Yoon Hee-keun, who have faced calls to resign.
However, Son said the special investigation team would close the investigation into the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security, the National Police Agency and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, saying it was difficult to establish their direct responsibility.
Some experts call the stampede in Itaewon a “man-made disaster” that could have been prevented by fairly simple steps, such as bringing in more police and community workers to monitor bottlenecks, maintaining one-way lanes and blocking narrow lanes, or temporarily closing Itaewon. subway station to prevent large numbers of people moving in one direction.
The Americans who died were University of Kentucky student Ann Giske and Kennes State University student Stephen Blessy, their schools said in statements.
Giske studied junior nursing, This was stated by the president of the University of Kentucky, Eli Capiluta in a letter to the community. Giske was from Northern Kentucky and studied abroad in South Korea for a semester, Capiluta said.
CBS Lexington affiliate WKYT-TV reported that Giske was a member of her school’s Korean language and culture club.
Blessi was an international business major at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and was one of 11 students studying in South Korea as part of a study abroad program, the school said.