- Nick March
- BBC News, Seoul
Kim Baek-gyeom is still visibly shaken from what he saw on Saturday night in the popular Itaewon district of Seoul.
He is the deputy inspector in the South Korean capital and was on duty on that tragic night.
“We received a report of a quarrel in the area, so I arrived at the scene between 10:10 pm and 10:15 pm,” he told the BBC at Itaewon police station, a few meters from the scene of the tragedy. .
He said that he saw people lying on the ground and heard screaming. “I tried to do my part to help people. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that”it states.
But a video posted on social media showing his desperate efforts to keep people off the alley has earned him praise from South Koreans, though it highlights the insufficient police presence on the ground that night.
In the video, a lonely young man in military uniform is seen, with deep anxiety on his face, trying to stop the huge tide of bodies drifting away from the narrow alley on a cliff where more than 150 people eventually lose their lives. .
“People are dying!And the shout loudly. “Everyone is moving here, please cooperate!”
Inspector Kim wasn’t even supposed to be there. Although his police station is located in the heart of Itaewon, he was not posted on the streets that night.
These streets would end up filling with over 100,000 people, mostly young people, who came to enjoy the Halloween parties.
“I was at the police station, waiting to be sent to commit any crime that might happen in Itaewon that night,” he recalls. There was no talk of crowd control, not tonight, not even in the days leading up to Halloween.
“We received a report of the quarrel that took place near the alley, so I immediately went to the scene,” he says.
It was then that the inspector saw that there were a lot of people dangerously crowded. People were crushed at the bottom of the steep alley that connects a main road to the gritty streets of a hill.
To try and prevent more crushes at the bottom, he decided he should stop people from going to the top of the alley.
As can be seen in vyoDio, I started screaming and telling people to go somewhere else.”He says.
Most of the people around him obeyed him, and in fact, many began to help him lead the crowd. Soon, dozens of people performed CPR on the victims, as crowd control efforts quickly turned into a rescue.
Kim says he did not see any other police officers at the scene of the tragedy, though he was later informed that others were also involved in the rescue effort.
Working alone, without a speaker or any basic plan of action, he faced the impossible task of trying to avert disaster while it lay in front of him.
The sheer number of people who lost their lives that night made him feel a great deal of guilt.
“I feel like I didn’t do my best,” he says. “I didn’t do my duty as a Korean policeman and I’m really sorry.”
The mother of one of the victims, Thursday, contacted the inspector to convey her thanks for his performance that night.
“I was so sorry I couldn’t thank him,” he recalls.
“I couldn’t do my job that night. I would like to meet the bereaved relatives, express my apologies and speak to them if possible.”
These families now want answers as anger grows toward the authorities in South Korea.
On Wednesday, private investigators raided eight police stations in Seoul to collect evidence as part of an investigation into how the human avalanche occurred.
There is mounting evidence of the authorities’ failures. Primarily, for not planning properly on Saturday night, and later for not responding effectively to emergency calls warning of overcrowding that began hours before the disaster.
In the days before the tragedy, Yongsan-gu held two meetings to discuss how to handle Halloween celebrations. According to its website, there has been talk of coronavirus, garbage collection, and illegal parking, among other things.
There was no mention of crowd control, though the county’s mayor admitted the day before that this would be the first Halloween in three years without social distancing measures.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s police chief admitted it His body’s emergency response was ‘inadequate’ And that he felt “great responsibility” for the deaths.
However, the efforts of Inspector Kim have impressed the general public, although he wants the spotlight to remain on the families of the victims.
“A lot of people called me and asked if I was okay,” he says.
“But instead of worrying about me, think of the bereaved families who will suffer the most. Please pray for them.”
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