A somber air lingers in Seoul as it approaches Halloween, marking one year since the devastating crowd crush disaster in Itaewon that claimed 159 lives.
About the tragedy: On Oct. 29, 2022, at around 10:20 p.m., a crowd crush occurred in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood during its Halloween festivities, resulting in the loss of 159 lives and injuring 196 others. South Korea hadn’t seen such a lethal tragedy since the 2014 MV Sewol sinking or the 1995 Sampoong Department Store collapse.
A special police team’s investigation found that the disaster’s root cause was the failure of the police and government to adequately prepare for the massive crowds, despite numerous warnings that went unheeded. The revelation prompted widespread criticism and protests against the government and police. President Yoon Suk Yeol faced calls for his resignation, although he remained in office.
Silent nights: This year, the city’s once-vibrant Halloween celebrations have taken on a much quieter tone as major retailers, including Lotte and Shinsegae, have chosen to remain low-key, forgoing Halloween-related promotions, reported Korea JoongAng Daily. Department stores, convenience stores, cafes and theme parks that used to see a boost in sales from Halloween-related goods and events have also voluntarily relinquished their annual celebrations.
Shift in approach: Large amusement parks such as Everland, Lotte World, and Seoul Land, which typically embraced horror-themed spaces and zombie performances, have chosen alternative themes this year. Legoland Korea has also scaled down its autumn festival, eliminating the Halloween theme.
The jurisdiction of Yongsan District, which includes the area where the tragedy occurred, canceled its annual “Global Village Festival” this year. Meanwhile, Korean English kindergartens and academies are replacing Halloween parties with Thanksgiving festivities.
Continuous calls for answers:
The Itaewon Disaster Bereaved Families and Survivors organization, which represents the Itaewon victims’ families, has emphasized that Halloween should not be blamed for the tragic accident and that those who partake in festivities bear no culpability. Still, the families continue to demand greater transparency and accountability from the government.
“It is devastatingly frustrating that there has been no proper investigation,” Jin Chang-hee, whose 21-year-old niece died in the tragedy, told VOA News. “We need proper support from the ruling party and we just don’t have it.”