Itaewon Halloween Celebrations Subdued a Year After Tragedy

Seoul marked a somber anniversary over the weekend, a year after nearly 160 people died in a crowd surge in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in the city.

Oct. 29, 2022, had started as a long-awaited Halloween celebration — the first in several years in South Korea that was free of pandemic restrictions. A mass of revelers and a bottleneck of human traffic in a cramped alley that night led to catastrophe, and a national outpouring of grief and questions about why the authorities were unable to prevent it.

This year, the gathering in Itaewon was much smaller. Several neighborhoods in Seoul saw an outsized police presence.

Thousands gathered on Sunday at a temporary memorial in front of Seoul City Hall to pay their respects to the victims.

Emergency vehicles and police cars lined the main street in Itaewon on Saturday night. The authorities had deployed additional personnel to help manage pedestrian traffic in several nightlife areas over the weekend.

At Seoul City Hall on Sunday, people held posters that read “10.29 Itaewon disaster: We will remember” and “10.29 Itaewon disaster: Enact the special law,” referring to a bill that would open an independent investigation into the catastrophe.

Earlier in the week, a memorial to the victims was unveiled in the alley in Itaewon. Lee Hyo-suk, whose daughter Jeong Ju-hee, 30, had died in the crowd crush, cried as she approached the plaque on Thursday.

The increased police presence was visible on Saturday in the alley where the crowd crush had occurred last year.

More partygoers gathered in the Hongdae neighborhood this year, in western Seoul, where police officers and emergency disaster response teams were controlling the crowds on Sunday.

Officers directed traffic in Itaewon, but the neighborhood bars remained largely empty in the early hours of the evening.

The victims’ families honored their loved ones at a temporary memorial in front of Seoul City Hall on Saturday. They bowed 159 times — for all of the victims — in front of photographs and food they had brought as offerings for the deceased. Many parents had prepared their children’s favorite snacks, like pizza, coffee and tteokbokki, or spicy rice cakes.

There was more security along many of the streets, alleyways and stairs in Itaewon ahead of Halloween this year.

Last year, detectives in Itaewon had largely focused on cracking down on illegal drug use and failed to help with crowd control. That changed this year.

A wall in the alleyway was covered with messages and flowers on Saturday evening.

Barricades were installed in parts of the street in Itaewon in an effort to better control the crowd in both directions.

People wearing Halloween masks returned to the neighborhood, though in far fewer numbers than last year.

Officers patrolled the main street in Itaewon on Saturday to direct pedestrian traffic.

Police buses along the main street.

A family member touched a victim’s photograph at the temporary memorial at Seoul City Hall on Monday. Most of the people who died were in their 20s and 30s.

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