South Korean police chief admits “heavy responsibility” for Halloween stampede disaster

South Korea’s police commissioner general was among a number of officials who apologized for the deadly Halloween stampede that left at least 156 people dead and 151 more injured over the weekend. Yoon Hee-keun said on Tuesday that the police response to the disaster was “inadequate.”

“I feel a heavy responsibility, as the head of one of the related government offices,” Yoon said in a televised news conference.

Yoon said the National Police Agency was looking into how officers on the ground handled the crowd surge, and into the fact that emergency services received a number of calls alerting them to the seriousness of the crush as the situation deteriorated. Yoon said the police response to those calls was “insufficient.”

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“I will do my best to prevent such a tragic incident from happening again in the future while once again feeling the unlimited responsibility for public safety through this accident,” Yoon said after bowing to room.

Other officials, including the mayor of Seoul and South Korea’s interior minister, also offered public apologies.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon was moved to tears during a news conference.

“When I tried to comfort a person with a daughter hospitalized at the National Medical Center yesterday, they said their daughter would survive, and they believed so,” the mayor was quote as saying by the Associated Press. “I heard she passed away this morning. I am sorry that my apology has come late.”

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At a meeting of the National Assembly, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min said: “It is very sad for me as a father who has a son and daughter… It is difficult to express in words how unreal this situation is, and it is difficult to accept this situation,” according to BBC News.

Police have launched a 475-person taskforce to determine the cause of the disaster, combing through security camera video and interviewing witnesses. They told the BBC that the first emergency call came at 6:34 p.m. local time, hours before the deadly stampede began, and that there were 10 other calls over the next few hours.

Some people have questioned the deployment of only 137 police officers to control the crowds in the central Seoul district amid the Halloween festivities on the night of the disaster. Despite that being a higher number that was deployed in the three years before the COVID-19 pandemic, some 7,000 officers were deployed to another area of the city to monitor protests that also drew a large turnout.

The majority of those killed in the tragedy were in their 20s and 30s, and 26 were foreign nationals, including two U.S. college students. Other victims were from Russia, Iran, and Japan.

South Korea’s prime minister Han Duck-soo said the foreign victims should receive the same government support as South Koreans. 

Han was grilled by journalists for almost 150 minutes on Tuesday, and asked repeatedly how the police appeared unaware of the disaster unfolding.

He said the government was investigating and conceded that changes should be made, but insisted that, in general, South Korea was a very safe country, and the disaster was a highly unusual event.

“If we had some preemptive crowd management techniques, anticipating all the problems that could happen beforehand, it might have been very good for us,” Han said in response to a CBS News question. “But this time, I read that there was some deficiency in that regard.”

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South Korea

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