The deadly stampede that killed more than 150 people in Seoul on Halloween last year was due to negligence and lack of preparation, a South Korean police investigation concluded on Friday.
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The victims of this tragedy in the Itaewon district, known for its nightlife, were mostly young Koreans in costume, including many women in their twenties.
The special team in charge of the investigation, which spent months gathering evidence and questioning the authorities concerned, concluded that there had been enormous failures, both at the level of the organization and the reaction on the ground.
“Organizations that are legally bound to prevent and manage disasters — the police, Seoul district offices and Seoul Metro public enterprise — did not take any security measures in advance or their plans were insufficient,” team leader Sohn Jae-han told reporters.
“No appropriate action was taken even after receiving the emergency calls” on the day of the disaster, he insisted, adding that the lack of cooperation between the competent authorities and the delays in communication had contributed to increase the balance sheet.
Six people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, including Lee Im-jae, the former Yongsan police commissioner who covers the Itaewon district, and Park Hee-young, the Yongsan district chief.
Both are in custody for professional negligence causing the death of others.
In December, a teenager who survived the tragedy was found dead in what appears to be a suicide. Authorities decided to count him as a victim of the disaster, bringing the death toll to 159.
The team of investigators, however, refrained from naming officials in the government or the police, arguing that it was “difficult to conclude that there was a breach of duty”.
The interior minister has been heavily criticized in the wake of the tragedy, with some calling for his resignation after he claimed that mobilizing more firefighters and police would not have prevented the tragedy.
He has since apologized on numerous occasions, including to the families of the victims last week, but has not tendered his resignation.
South Korea’s rapid transformation from a poor, war-torn nation into a leading economy with global cultural reach remains a national pride.
But a series of preventable disasters — such as the Itaewon tragedy and the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014 in which 304 people died — have shaken Koreans’ faith in the authorities.