Two American students studying abroad were identified on Sunday as the only known American deaths among at least 153 people who died in a crush of Halloween revelers in Seoul.
Anne Gieske, a third-year nursing student at the University of Kentucky, was among those who perished in crowded streets Friday night, college president Eli Capilouto said. at school Sunday.
Gieske was from northern Kentucky and was studying abroad in South Korea this semester, Capilouto said.
Steven Blesi, 20, of Marietta, Georgia, was the other American known so far to have died in the tragic compression of bodies piled up in narrow streets and alleys of the tourist nightlife district of Itaewon, in the capital.
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 overseas in South Korea are safe, Capilouto said.
The university president said school officials “have been in touch with Anne’s family and will provide all possible support – now and in the days to come – as they come to terms with this loss. indescribable”.
Gieske’s father, Dan, released a statement for the family on Sunday: “We are completely devastated and heartbroken by the loss of Anne Marie. She was a shining light loved by all. We ask for your prayers but also respect for our privacy.”
Capilouto said the student’s death was difficult to understand. “There are no adequate or proper words to describe the pain of a beautiful life cut short,” he wrote.
Steve Blesi said via text that his son had just completed his mid-term studies and was celebrating with his fellow students. He made many friends in South Korea, the father said.
“He was having a great time,” he said. “If I could take his place, I would.”
The Blesi elder said police should have been prepared and assigned crowd control officers as around 100,000 people gathered in the district.
Bar-hoppers, students and others celebrated the possibility of celebrating the first mass Halloween since 2019, before the pandemic cut off human contact.
“I can’t imagine the pain he went through,” Blesi said. “The SK [South Korean] the police should have been better prepared.”
In a tweet, President Joe Biden expressed sympathy. “Jill and I are devastated to learn that at least two Americans are among many who have lost their lives in Seoul,” he said. “Our thoughts are with their loved ones during this time of grief, and we continue to pray for the recovery of all those who have been injured.”
There doesn’t appear to have been a single event, such as a concert or outdoor party, that drew revelers to the area well-known for its crowded, booze-fueled nights. For the police to have been prepared, they should have anticipated the unusually large crowds.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said in a nationwide address on Sunday morning that it was “a disaster that should never happen.”
Yoon, saying he was ultimately responsible for the safety of the South Korean people, ordered an emergency review of what he called “Halloween festivals” in the region.
A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Seoul confirmed that there were two known American deaths.
“Our staff in Seoul and our 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.
Yongsan firefighters said in a statement that the other foreign victims came from China, Iran, France, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Norway, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Austria and Kazakhstan. Most of the victims were people in their late teens and twenties, said Choi Seong-beom, fire chief of Yongsan in Seoul.
Although the incident was initially described as a stampede, the video appears to depict a crowd surgea wave of people pushing forward through an overcrowded crowd.
In an interview after the crowd crush at Houston’s Astroworld festival in which 10 people died, crowd management pioneer Paul Wertheimer explained what happens in crowded conditions, often during mass celebrations like concerts and festivals.
Elements of such a tragedy often include “festival seating” where people are allowed to roam anywhere, overcrowding in a limited area, and sometimes a trigger or “crowd craze”, that triggers mass movement in one direction. Sometimes it’s a countdown, which can lead to anticipation and anxiety, Werthhemer said.
In South Korea, it was unclear if anything caused the crowds to push in a particular direction. In the crowd crashes a wave of humanity in which revelers can lose control of their own direction, struggle to breathe and are sometimes lifted off their feet, moving horizontally, with some victims sustaining injury or death even as ‘they were standing,’ Wertheimer said.
Injuries and impacts can include asphyxiation, cardiac arrest and broken bones as the crowd collapses at its leading edge, leading to trampling type injuries, the expert said.
At least 133 people were injured, 23 of whom are in critical condition, officials said.
This is a developing story. Please check for updates.