Duke community members mourn South Korea stampede victims at vigil

Candlelight illuminated the faces of nearly 50 Duke community members Thursday night as they gathered outside the Chapel to honor the victims of the Halloween stampede in Itaewon, South Korea.

Over 150 people, most of whom were in their twenties, were killed Saturday night after they were crushed in a surge in the Seoul neighborhood. As many as 100,000 people had clogged narrow streets for Halloween festivities.

The event is described as one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters. On Tuesday, national police chief Yoon Hee-keun said that his agency’s handling of emergency calls was “inappropriate” and promised to conduct a thorough investigation. 

Thursday’s vigil at the Duke Chapel was organized by the Korean Undergraduate Student Association, Korean Graduate Student Association, the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Department, Duke International House and the Divinity School. 

“We are here because we do not want to continue as normal,” said Kevin D’Arco, senior associate dean of international students. 

D’Arco described the emotions he had experienced over the week, remembering the time he spent living in South Korea and his friends who are still there. 

“Today I appreciate the community we have [at Duke],” he said. 

KUSA President Hyonjun Yun, a senior, described his initial indifference to the news amid constant tragedies. But as the numbers of fatalities grew, so did his emotions.

“Now it’s no longer indifference, it’s disbelief,” Yun said. 

Yun said that it wasn’t just the 156 killed who are affected — it is also “the people who told their sons and daughters to ‘go have fun,’ not knowing they wouldn’t return.” He emphasized that each person who was killed had their “own world that was taken away.”

He encouraged his peers to be nicer to one another and “recognize the beauty of every day we get.” 

Hae-Young Kim, professor of the practice of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, questioned the failures of the Korean government for not acting in time. Emergency calls were being made as early as 6:34 p.m. warning about people at risk for being “squashed to death.” The first firefighters and government rescuers arrived at the scene of the crowd crush at 10:29 p.m.

“Is the government taking this tragedy seriously or not?” she asked, questioning the priorities of the police and other authorities. 

As candles flickered in the wind, Kim read aloud the names, ages and aspirations of several of the victims. 

D’Arco reminded students of the mental health and counseling options available to students and encouraged everyone to step away from the news and find opportunities to connect with family and friends. He was also appreciative of Duke and its international student population’s “extended family.”

D’Arco mentioned that President Vincent Price, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, all sent their condolences and regrets that they were unable to be in attendance. 

Kathryn Thomas profile
Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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