Two American college students studying abroad were identified Sunday as the only known Americans among at least 153 people who died among a bevy of Halloween revelers in Seoul.
Anne Gieske, a third-year nursing student at the University of Kentucky, was among those who died in crowded streets Friday night, the school principal, Eli Capilouto, announced. To the school Sunday.
Gieske, from northern Kentucky, studied in South Korea this semester, Capilouto said.
Steven Blesi, 20, of Marietta, Georgia, was the other American hitherto known to have died in the tragic compression of bodies found in narrow streets and alleys of the capital’s tourist-friendly Itaewon entertainment district.
His father, Steve Blesi, confirmed his death, saying his son was in South Korea to study international business and learn the Korean language during the fall semester.
Two other University of Kentucky students and a faculty member who are also abroad in South Korea are safe, Capilouto said.
He said school officials “have been in touch with Anne’s family and will provide all the support we can – now and in the days to come – in dealing with this indescribable loss.”
Gieske’s father, Dan, said in a statement to the family on Sunday: “We are heartbroken and heartbroken at the loss of Anne Marie. She was a bright light that everyone loved. We ask for your prayers but also for respect for our privacy.”
Capilouto said that Gieske’s death was hard to comprehend. “There are no adequate or appropriate words to describe the pain of a beautiful life cut short,” he wrote.
Steve Blesi said by text that his son had just completed midterm exams and was celebrating with fellow students. He made many friends in South Korea, his father said.
“He had a great time,” he said. “If I could take his place, I would.”
Blesi said police should have been prepared and appointed officers to control the crowd as an estimated 100,000 people gathered in the district.
Bar-hoppers, students and others celebrated the ability to celebrate the first Halloween en masse since 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic dampened human contact.
“I can’t imagine the suffering he endured,” Blesi said. “The SK [South Korean] Police should have been better prepared.”
President Joe Biden expressed his condolences in a tweet. “Jill and I are devastated to learn that there are at least two Americans among so many who lost their lives in Seoul,” he said. “Our hearts go out to their loved ones at this time of grief, and we continue to pray for the recovery of all those injured.”
It seemed like there wasn’t a single event, like a concert or outdoor party, that drew revelers to the area known for its busy, booze-fueled nights. To have prepared the police, they should have predicted the unusually large crowds.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said in a national speech Sunday morning that it was “a disaster that should never happen”.
Yoon, who said he was ultimately responsible for the security of the South Korean people, ordered an emergency review of what he called “Halloween festivals” in the area.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Seoul confirmed that there were two known American deaths.
“Our staff in Seoul and colleagues in the United States are working tirelessly to provide consular assistance to the victims of last night’s incident and their families,” the spokesperson said.
The Seoul Yongsan Fire Department said in a statement that the other foreign victims were from China, Iran, France, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Norway, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Austria and Kazakhstan. Most were people in their late teens and 20s, said fire chief Choi Seong-beom.
The incident was initially described as a stampede, but the video appears to show a wave of people, a wave of people pushing forward through a crowded crowd.
In an interview following last year’s crowd crush at Houston’s Astroworld festival that killed 10 people, crowd management pioneer Paul Wertheimer explained what happens in crowded conditions, often during mass celebrations such as concerts and festivals.
The elements of such a tragedy often include ‘festival seats’, in which people are allowed to move anywhere; overcrowding in a limited area; and sometimes a trigger or “crowd rage,” which causes massive movement in one direction. Sometimes that’s a countdown, which can lead to anticipation and anxiety, Wertheimer said.
In South Korea, it was not clear if anything prompted the crowd to push in a particular direction. In a crowd-crush, a wave of humanity — in which revelers can lose control of their own direction, have trouble breathing and sometimes be lifted off their feet — moves horizontally, with some victims sustaining injuries or death even when standing, said Wertheimer.
Injuries and knocks can include suffocation, cardiac arrest and broken bones if the crowd collapses at the leading edge, leading to trample-type injuries, he said.
At least 133 people were injured, 23 of whom are in critical condition, officials said.
This is a story in development. Come back for updates.