When he arrived within the South Korean metropolis of Seoul in late August, American trade pupil Steven Blesi rapidly developed a large circle of mates from all over the world.
The 20-year-old from Atlanta was finding out on the metropolis’s Hangyang College, as a part of a US examine overseas program. He had deliberate to satisfy up with a number of folks from the course on Saturday within the Itaewon district of Seoul, to have a good time Halloween with hundreds of different younger revelers.
However when he didn’t present up, his family and friends started a frantic search to trace him down, earlier than finally studying that he had died within the crowd crush in an overcrowded alleyway which killed 156 principally younger folks.
Blesi’s greatest good friend on this system was Ian Chang, 21, from Florida, who was additionally his neighbor of their college dorms.
“We just about like adventures, doing spontaneous stuff,” Chang advised CNN in an unique interview this week. “And simply exploring town.”
Blesi liked “dancing, ingesting, having enjoyable,” Chang stated, and “each time he met somebody new, he had a big effect on them.”
On Saturday evening, Chang and Blesi have been supposed to satisfy within the slender streets of Itaewon, a well-liked district lined with nightclubs, bars and quick meals shops. The pair had been collectively earlier that day, then Chang had gone dwelling to get modified.
“Initially we simply needed to go to Itaewon to see the way it was, see what’s so particular about Halloween there,” Chang stated. “As a result of we heard from folks (that) Itaewon goes to be massive on Halloween.”
However when he arrived in Itaewon round 9:40 p.m., Chang started to understand the hazard that was unfolding. He despatched Blesi a Snapchat message at 10:17 p.m. urging him to keep away from Itaewon, and to satisfy up within the neighborhood of Hongdae as a substitute.
“It’s too packed. And there’s no place to go,” Chang’s message stated.
As information unfold of the horror that unfolded within the Itaewon alleyway over the following few hours, Blesi’s different mates additionally tried calling and messaging him.
“You may come to my place … it’s secure right here. The place are you Steven?” messaged 24-year-old Belgian trade pupil, Wassim Essebane, at round 1 a.m. on Sunday through KakaoTalk, a South Korean messaging app much like WhatsApp.
One other good friend, Stefanie Reuss, 22, was additionally attempting to trace Blesi down from her dwelling greater than 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) away in Austria. Reuss helped to lift the alarm, by posting messages on Instagram and Twitter looking for him.
One of many folks Reuss was contacted by was 19-year-old Olivia Kim from Houston, Texas, who had been relationship Blesi for a number of weeks. Kim had been planning to go to Itaewon on Saturday evening, however modified plans on the final minute. She was attributable to go on a date with Blesi on Sunday afternoon.
“Steven and I’ve been speaking to one another almost on a regular basis for a few month after occurring our first date in early October,” Kim advised CNN. “I instantly adored his emotional generosity, wit, adventurous spirit, and optimistic persona.”
Kim had misplaced contact with Blesi on Saturday, and when he nonetheless didn’t reply on Sunday morning, she started to fret that he was one of many victims.
Again dwelling in Atlanta, Blesi’s father, Steve, was additionally rising more and more determined.
“Possibly a half hour earlier than this tragedy befell, I texted him in WhatsApp … ‘I do know you’re out and about. Keep secure. I really like you.’ And I by no means obtained a response again,” Blesi’s father stated.
Over the following few hours, the repeated missed calls and messages went unanswered.
At round 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, Chang stated Blesi’s mom had emailed him, searching for assist in monitoring down her son. Chang stated they tried to name across the hospitals in Seoul, enlisting their Korean-speaking mates to assist.
However round noon on Sunday, all of them discovered the information they feared probably the most, after being advised by Blesi’s father, who had been knowledgeable by the US embassy.
One other American pupil from this system, 20-year-old Anne Gieske from Kentucky, additionally died within the crowd crush on Saturday evening. She had been with Blesi earlier within the night, though it’s not clear in the event that they have been collectively after they died.
Earlier within the night, the younger partygoers had thought the overpacked streets within the Itaewon district of Seoul have been a part of the enjoyable of the Halloween expertise.
“Initially we thought it was humorous,” stated Anne-Lou Chevalier, a 22-year-old French trade pupil who survived the gang crush. “We heard Halloween in Itaewon was superb.”
However when an estimated 100,000 folks finally crammed into the slender lanes and alleyways, panic started to set in.
“We (began) to be very, very caught collectively and crushed, after which we heard some folks screaming and crying,” Chevalier stated.
“We have been attempting to assist folks, as a result of there have been lots of people (who) couldn’t breathe,” stated her good friend 18-year-old Alice Sannier, additionally from France.
The chums obtained separated within the chaos of the gang, and Chevalier fainted twice within the crush, including that it felt “like dying.”
“I keep in mind that I had no air, so I began suffocating,” Chevalier stated. “In some way I obtained evacuated with my good friend, so I’m very, very fortunate.”
The 2 mates stated their slight frames made them extra weak.
“As a result of we’re small in measurement, there (have been) loads of foreigners that have been (a lot) taller they usually have been surrounding us, so at one level you can not have some air, and you then begin to freak out,” Chevalier stated.
In complete, 101 girls and 55 males have been killed within the catastrophe.
Sannier and a number of other different eyewitnesses who spoke to CNN stated that they noticed a number of folks pushing into the gang, which is being investigated as a attainable set off for the domino impact that befell.
“Everybody was pushing, that’s why so many individuals have been dying,” Sannier stated, including that they didn’t see any cops after they have been within the packed alleyway.
Information present eleven calls had been made to police to warn concerning the scenario in Itaewon earlier than the crush occurred on Saturday night, and the top of South Korea’s Nationwide Police Company has stated that the police response to these calls was “insufficient.” An investigation is underway.
Associates and households of the victims are solely simply starting to course of what occurred to their family members, a lot of whom have been simply beginning out in life.
“It’s unimaginable,” Reuss advised CNN.
Reuss had met Blesi when she spent three weeks touring in Seoul in September. They’d rapidly change into mates, partying collectively and doing karaoke and consuming Korean barbecue, they usually have been planning to journey collectively in Europe.
“He was curious concerning the world,” Reuss stated. “He had so many goals. I’m similar to him. It makes me unhappy.”
Blesi’s father stated his son had “at all times been an adventurer.” He was an Eagle Scout, appreciated basketball and needed to study a number of languages, he stated.
“He had an extremely shiny future that’s now gone,” he added.
Certainly one of Blesi and Chang’s most up-to-date adventures was a mountain climbing journey a number of weeks in the past, to the mountainous island of Jeju off the southwest coast of South Korea.
“We (have been) simply all impressed by how far we’ve been from dwelling,” Chang stated. “Occurring all these adventures collectively. And exploring one thing that we most likely haven’t considered a yr in the past.”
In addition to mountain climbing and having fun with the meals and nightlife of South Korea, Blesi additionally liked its cultural traditions.
“He’d by no means been to Asia so he actually needed to discover,” Chang stated. “He was actually excited to enter, for instance, temples.”
His good friend Essebane advised CNN that Blesi was “an absolute nice man.”
“He was sort, open, made you’re feeling comfy, had such a heat persona, and he was humorous,” Essebane stated. “I’ll always remember about him.”
In only some months of figuring out one another, Chang stated he had come to consider Blesi as his “brother.”
“Steven was the kindest particular person there ever was,” Chang stated.
“I’m simply glad to have had him in my life,” he added. “I want I might have made extra reminiscences with him.”