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For foreign victims, an abrupt, tragic end to much-anticipated trip to Korea

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Nov. 1, 2022 - 18:30

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Mourners shed tears whiling paying condolences at a memorial set up near Itaewon Station in central Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap) Mourners shed tears whiling paying condolences at a memorial set up near Itaewon Station in central Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)

Among the victims from last weekend’s Halloween disaster in Itaewon are foreign exchange students, tourists and overseas fans of Korean culture on a much-anticipated trip here after the pandemic.

Major media outlets around the world have shared the stories of those who perished in Seoul when Halloween celebrations turned deadly.

Anne Gieske had just turned 20

Saturday was one day after Anne Gieske’s 20th birthday.

A nursing student at the University of Kentucky, she was in Korea for an autumn semester study abroad program.

For her stay here, Gieske had set up a special Instagram account to share her life and experiences with friends and families back home. Her last post is about her 20th birthday on Friday.

CNN reported the story of Gieske who is also a niece of Ohio Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup, while the politician’s office released a statement on behalf of the 20-year-old’s parents.

“We are completely devastated and heartbroken over the loss of Anne Marie. … Anne’s final gift to us was dying in the state of sanctifying grace. We know we will one day be reunited with her in God’s kingdom,” Gieske’s parents said in the statement according to CNN.

Her father, Dan, described her as a "bright light loved by all” and CBS quoted University of Kentucky’s Korean Language and Culture Club as saying she was a "very kind and outgoing person."

First responders are on the scene in Itaewon, central Seoul, in the early hours of Sunday, after the deadly crowd surge that claimed at least 156 lives. (Yonhap) First responders are on the scene in Itaewon, central Seoul, in the early hours of Sunday, after the deadly crowd surge that claimed at least 156 lives. (Yonhap)

Vacation in Korea turns into nightmare

Nathan Taverniti, 24, was on vacation from Australia. He was in Itaewon with three friends on the day when he lost one of his friends in the deadly crowd surge. The victim was the 23-year-old Australian film production assistant Grace Rached, who would have celebrated her birthday next month.

"I was there the whole night. Some people fell in front of me, and I lost a group of my friends," he told The NPR, fighting back tears. "Somehow, I got out, but all three of my friends ... two are in the hospital, and one has passed away.”

Citing his quote from the report, there was no police and nobody was to help him. He also uploaded an emotional TikTok video, describing Saturday’s incident, saying “Nobody was willing to help.”

“I watched as people filmed and sang and laughed while my friends were dying, along with many other people. … This crush was not caused by drunk people. It was caused by a lack of planning, police force and emergency services,” he said in the video.

In the meantime, the family of the deceased described Rached as a talented film producer who was passionate about making a difference, according to The Guardian citing her family’s released statement.

Rached “cared deeply about her two sisters and was a wonderful role model,” her family said. “Grace showed us what it meant to be an incredible human being. We will deeply miss our beautiful Grace, our life of the party.”

Mourners place white flowers to pay condolences at a memorial set up at Itaewon Station in central Seoul, Tuesday, for the victims of Saturday's deadly crowd crush that killed 156 people, including 26 foreign nationals. (Yonhap) Mourners place white flowers to pay condolences at a memorial set up at Itaewon Station in central Seoul, Tuesday, for the victims of Saturday's deadly crowd crush that killed 156 people, including 26 foreign nationals. (Yonhap)

‘She dreamed of a career related to Korea and Japan’

Japan's Kyodo News reported the story of Mei Tomikawa, who is one of the two Japanese victims in Itaewon.

The 26-year-old’s father flew from Hokkaido to Korea with two other family members and identified the body of Tomikawa on Monday, according to the report.

Tomikawa had been studying Korean in Seoul since June after graduating from a technical school in Japan and had hoped to find a job related to the two neighboring countries, Kyodo News reported citing the father.

The last communication between the father and daughter was at around 7 p.m. Saturday. She said she was going out with a French friend. She could not be reached by phone the next morning and after several calls, a local police officer answered her phone and said it was found at the site of the disaster, the report showed.