A joint service organized by the Anglican Church of Korea’s Justice and Peace Priests’ Association and another Anglican organization for victims of the Oct. 29 crowd crush in Itaewon, Seoul, for Christmas. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

The Anglican Church of Korea commemorated the Itaewon tragedy this Christmas, holding an outdoor service in the trendy Seoul entertainment district where 158 people died in a stampede last Halloween. 

On 29 Oct 2022 revelers celebrating Halloween in Itaewon, an area that had once been home to Seoul’s red light district near the US Army base in Central Seoul, but which had been gentrified in recent years after the US Army moved its headquarters south of the city, began a stampede at approximately 10:15 pm.

The number of people packed into the network of small alleyways had grown so large that people were unable to move about, prompting a panic that led to 158 young people crushed to death or suffocated by the crowds.

An investigation following the disaster found egregious failures by the police, local government and the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. Before the crowd surge that killed 158 began around 10:15 p.m., at least eleven phone calls to the police from concerned citizens specifically warned of the possibility of panic.

By 6 p.m. that evening, Itaewon Police Substation requested back up from Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. However, the police leaders decided not to send reinforcements to Itaewon, but to dispatch 200 officers to guard the empty presidential residence under construction in nearby Hannam-dong. 

TheYongsan-gu District Office police office, whose jurisdiction includes the Itaewon neighborhood, dispatched only 30 personnel, but assigned them to ticket illegally parked cars rather than assist in crowd control.

The government 0f President Yoon has also come under criticism as only 58 of the 137 national police officers on duty in the district where tasked with public safety, with the balance assigned to plains clothes narcotics duties.

The Anglican Church of Korea’s Justice and Peace Priests’ Association and other Christian groups have been harshly critical of the local and national government’s handling of the disaster and its aftermath.