After more than 150 people were killed in the deadly crush during Itaewon’s Halloween celebration, people are questioning the apparent lack of police presence before tragedy struck.
South Korean authorities had anticipated a large crowd at the Halloween festivities, yet some police officers were sent to patrol political protests in other parts of Seoul on Saturday evening.
The death toll in the stampede climbed to 153 Sunday as the government launched an investigation into the incident and declared a national period of mourning.
The government is facing criticism over the police response, with witnesses telling The New York Times that they sensed a lack of crowd control and security presence in the narrow streets of Itaewon, a popular nightlife destination. Authorities have dismissed suggestions that additional police could have prevented the tragedy.
Police said in a press release before the weekend that they knew the Halloween festivities — the first without masks since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — would be popular. They said additional officers would be on the streets.
Lee Sang-min, Korea’s minister of the interior and safety, told reporters that some police had been dispatched to respond to political protests elsewhere in the city, Korean media reported. But he said the disaster would not have been avoided by stationing more police and firefighters in Itaewon.
More details emerged Sunday about the victims in the stampede. The majority were teenagers and in their 20s, and women made up almost two-thirds of the victims, officials said.
People continued to search for loved ones who may have been killed or injured in the incident; the government said it has received more than 4,000 missing persons reports, the Times reported.