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Survivor of Itaewon tragedy couldn’t stand the pain

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A message of mourning and a bouquet of chrysanthemum flowers are placed at the scene of the Itaewon disaster in central Seoul on Nov. 16. [YONHAP]

A teenage survivor of the Itaewon tragedy, who lost two friends in the crowd crush that took 158 lives on Oct. 29, died in an apparent suicide while receiving psychological treatment for trauma.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, police found a dead high school student in a motel room in Mapo District, western Seoul at 11:40 p.m.(KST) on Monday, after half an hour of searching for the teen following a missing person report by his mother.

The student checked in alone at around 7 p.m.(KST) Monday and committed suicide in the bathroom, according to local news reports. No suicide note was found.

The teen was at the Halloween celebrations in Itaewon on Oct. 29 that turned into a mass tragedy when too many people were jammed into alleys with no crowd control. He was with two friends who died in the crowd crush.

The teen lost consciousness at the scene and sustained severe injuries that required hospitalization. Afterward, he met with a psychiatrist twice a week and also received on-campus counseling.

He was slowly returning to daily routines, said his family.

“The family are consumed with guilt that he managed to survive the disaster but they weren’t able to protect him after it,” a relative of the teen told Yonhap at his funeral altar on Wednesday morning.

“The counselor told us he was getting better and better, and he was actually recovering from the shock,” the relative said.

There was no evidence of foul play in a forensic examination of the scene. Police said an autopsy will not be performed at the request of the teen’s family.

There are five students who were receiving psychological counseling from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education as of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a member of the city council in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, was referred to the People Power Party’s (PPP) regional ethics committee after making remarks about victims of the Itaewon disaster, PPP Chief Chung Jin-suk said in a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.

Kim Min-a re-posted comments on her Facebook account questioning whether the victims of the Itaewon disaster “died saving the country.”

She also slammed the opposition Democratic Party (DP) for trying to capitalize on the tragedy. “After wearing yellow ribbons [to mourn the sinking of the Sewol Ferry] for the past eight to nine years, how much longer will those DP members wear black ribbons now?” She called them “a bunch of hucksters using the dead bodies.”

After a backlash, Kim deleted her posts and apologized during a city council meeting on Tuesday.

If you or someone you know is feeling emotionally distressed or struggling with thoughts of suicide, LifeLine Korea can be contacted at 1588-9191 or the Crisis Counseling Center at 1577-0199. The Seoul Global Center offers English-language counseling, contact 02-2075-4180 (+1) to arrange a session. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]