By Ryan Ryu ’25
The Halloween Party in South Korea, a supposedly fun and festive event, turned into one of the most deadly and tragic Halloween parties in history. One hundred fifty-six innocent lives were lost. Nobody knew it was going to be their last Halloween party.
On Saturday, October 29th, tens of thousands of costumed partygoers – mostly teenagers and young adults – poured into the popular nightlife neighborhood of Itaewon to enjoy their first mask-free Halloween Party since South Korea’s strict mask mandate.
The excited crowds emerged into bars and nightclubs, pumping out the latest K-pop hits. They spilled out into the tight alleys that wound through the city’s neighborhood. They snacked on the Greek, Turkish, Italian, and other international foods for which the diverse district is known.
As the night grew more frenetic and the mass of revelers swelled, many crammed into an 11-foot wide alleyway, creating a bottleneck of human traffic. According to witnesses, there were few police officers around, and from within the crowd came calls to “push, push.” There was a big shove, and then they began to fall, a tangle of too many bodies compressed into a small space.
The festivities descended into chaos, with photos and videos on social media showing huge crowds crammed into a narrow alley. Eyewitnesses described partygoers being packed so tightly together.
In the seven days since, 156 people were killed in this Halloween crush in the South Korean capital. The names and stories of those who died have emerged, along with details of missed warnings and desperate calls for help.
According to police emergency call logs, multiple calls were made as early as four hours before the tragedy unfolded. The crowd in Seoul’s busy nightlife district of Itaewon became so packed that partygoers could not move or breathe.
Ultimately, four police dispatches were sent to the site that evening. Still, they were too few and too late to prevent the disaster.
Families are mourning the loss of their loved ones, with most victims in their teens and twenties. Amid the grief, anger has grown with demands for answers as to how things could have gone so wrong.
“This is clearly a man-made disaster,” said Park Ji-hyun, a leader of the opposition Democratic Party, in a Facebook post. “The government must take responsibility for failing to control the crowd, even when a bigger crowd was expected this year than last.”