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The things they lost: Personal items catalogue Seoul crowd crush horror

By Claire Lee, AFP Published Nov 02, 2022 12:04 pm Updated Nov 02, 2022 12:06 pm

Warning: This article contains graphic content.

Broken glasses. A grubby stuffed toy. Blood-stained running shoes.

The broken and twisted detritus of personal possessions collected from the scene of Seoul's deadly Halloween crowd surge are a poignant catalog of young lives lost.

More than 150 people, mostly costumed partygoers in their 20s, were killed in a crush during what was supposed to be a night of post-pandemic celebration in the popular Itaewon nightlife district on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Police collected 1.5 tons of items from the scene and have put them on display in a gym that was briefly used to store bodies from the disaster.

The cavernous space is now filled with row upon row of once-cherished possessions, neatly laid out, each marked with a Post-it note and an identifying number.

Families, who are holding funerals this week, can now go and collect their loved ones' possessions.

Most victims died trapped in a narrow alleyway. Witnesses described how, with no police or crowd control in sight, confused partygoers pushed and shoved, not realizing people were falling only to be trampled and crushed to death.

As emergency responders reached the scene and managed to drag victims out of the tangled crush of bodies, shoes were lost and clothes ripped off to allow CPR to be performed.

Police have laid out around 260 items of clothing at the gym—including bits of Halloween costumes—and 256 pairs of shoes. Many items are crumpled, covered in dirt, or flecked with dried blood. 

One man, visibly shaken, clutched an item of clothing to his chest as he walked around, looking through the detritus of the disaster: goofy photographs from lost wallets, passports, and a Halloween wig. 

"Some family members came and left in tears" with their loved one's items, an officer at the scene told AFP.

'Classes at 9'

Authorities also collected around 160 electronic devices from the scene.

An AFP reporter saw around 20 sets of Apple AirPods headphones and numerous smart watches, some with ripped straps.

Each item was carefully labeled, some with the names of their late owners.

"We collected as many items as possible in case they belonged to the victims," Jang Young-sik, an officer at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, told AFP.

At least 26 of the victims were foreign nationals, from more than a dozen different countries including Iran, the United States, and France.

A Russian-language copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was among the items at the gym. Moscow's Seoul embassy has said three young Russian women died in the disaster.

But most of the victims were young Koreans in their 20s—members of a generation that had already endured two years of disruption to their studies during the pandemic.

The Itaewon Halloween event would have been the first chance for many students to party with friends in person for years. It ended instead with the tragedy of young lives cut short

"From June to November, classes at 9," said a Post-it note stuck to a student's battered notebook, its pages crumpled and marked by a dirty footprint. (AFP)