After Seoul’s Halloween Crowd Crush, Here Are the Items Left Behind


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SEOUL — A dirt-stained white jacket. A purple mask from a Teletubbies costume. Two mismatched Japanese clogs. A pair of scuff-streaked pumps.

Hundreds of items recovered from the Itaewon disaster lay abandoned on Wednesday at a Seoul gymnasium, where dozens of bodies had been stored Saturday night after a huge crowd crush caused a disaster with a death toll which rose to at least 156.

Survivors and family members of victims are now tasked with rummaging through what remains – each item meticulously labeled and arranged in rows in a vast room that is entirely silent save for the quiet hum of passing cars.

Carolina Cano, a 21-year-old exchange student from Mexico, sent her friend to pick up one thing: a peculiar white Nike Fuse sneaker. It was ripped from her foot as a stranger pulled her from the fatal crush on Saturday night, just as she was about to pass out, she said; a man also stuck in the crowd had his elbow pinned against her trachea, cutting her air intermittently as she remained motionless for at least 30 minutes, she said.

“I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” she said. “It was awful. It was all just a blur.”

“I really doubt I will wear these shoes again,” she added. “It’s quite painful to remember the incident all over again.”

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Inside the gym, an elderly woman with purple hair and a young woman in a gray coat carried black plastic bags, their eyes scanning the floor as they repeatedly checked a reference photo on a cellphone. The young woman checked a wallet she pulled out of a black leather handbag. Then a worker hugged the elderly woman as she identified a pair of black leather combat boots.

Wearing white rubber gloves, the worker placed the shoes in a white paper bag. The couple filled out paperwork and left the building, the youngest wiping tears from her eyes.

Items in the gymnasium were laid out on pieces of cloth or tables that represented different sections. One section was almost entirely devoted to black boots. Others were dedicated to white sneakers or different types of jackets. From a table covered in hats and glasses, a young woman covering her face in a bob pulled off a black beret from which hung two long ribbons – a piece of Halloween costume.

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Some of the objects revealed the struggle that night as people’s bodies piled on top of each other, or as some were pinned against the walls of the alley. The entire right side of a cream jacket was covered in dark gray dust. There was a suitcase covered in dozens of barcode stickers, suggesting numerous trips to the airport. Often only one shoe was left behind.

“I was really scared to enter the building. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Mikita Shatau, a 21-year-old exchange student from Belgium. He went to the gym on Tuesday to collect 10 items for two different classmates, including Cano.

“It was a bit scary because it was so quiet,” he said. “I just saw all the stuff everywhere, and the only thing I was thinking was, ‘Oh my god, this could be stuff from people who died or are still very hurt.'”

Shatau lives in Itaewon and was about to leave his house on Saturday night when he saw a text message sent at 11:32 p.m. to a group chat for exchange students. A friend who had gone bar-hopping in Itaewon with Cano warned everyone not to go to Itaewon, saying she had just been saved from a crowd crush. (friend was seriously injured and was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition.)

Shatau did not know either of the women well but opened his house to them after escaping the crowd that night. He watched the scene unfold from the roof of his apartment.

“It was indescribable how loud it was. I just saw red and blue lights everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It’s so weird to say a sentence like this out loud, but I’m so glad to be alive.”

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