When he arrived within the South Korean metropolis of Seoul in late August, American alternate scholar Steven Blesi rapidly developed a large circle of associates from all over the world.
The 20-year-old from Atlanta was learning 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 individuals from the course on Saturday within the Itaewon district of Seoul, to have a good time Halloween with 1000’s 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 largely younger individuals.
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 informed CNN in an unique interview this week. “And simply exploring the town.”
Blesi liked “dancing, consuming, having enjoyable,” Chang stated, and “each time he met somebody new, he had a huge impact on them.”
On Saturday evening, Chang and Blesi have been supposed to satisfy within the slender streets of Itaewon, a preferred district lined with nightclubs, bars and quick meals retailers. The pair had been collectively earlier that day, then Chang had gone residence 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 individuals (that) Itaewon goes to be large on Halloween.”
However when he arrived in Itaewon round 9:40 p.m., Chang started to comprehend 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 an alternative.
“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 subsequent few hours, Blesi’s different associates additionally tried calling and messaging him.
“You’ll be able to come to my place … it’s secure right here. The place are you Steven?” messaged 24-year-old Belgian alternate scholar, Wassim Essebane, at round 1 a.m. on Sunday by way of KakaoTalk, a South Korean messaging app much like WhatsApp.
One other good friend, Stefanie Reuss, 22, was additionally making an attempt to trace Blesi down from her residence 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 individuals Reuss contacted 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 practically on a regular basis for a couple of month after occurring our first date in early October,” Kim informed 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 residence in Atlanta, Blesi’s father, Steve, was additionally rising more and more determined.
“Perhaps a half hour earlier than this tragedy happened, I texted him in WhatsApp … ‘I do know you’re out and about. Keep secure. I really like you.’ And I by no means acquired a response again,” Blesi’s father stated.
Over the subsequent 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, in search of assist in monitoring down her son. Chang stated they tried to name across the hospitals in Seoul, enlisting their Korean-speaking associates to assist.
However round noon on Sunday, all of them realized the information they feared essentially the most, after being informed by Blesi’s father, who had been knowledgeable by the US embassy.
One other American scholar 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 alternate scholar who survived the gang crush. “We heard Halloween in Itaewon was wonderful.”
However when an estimated 100,000 individuals 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 individuals screaming and crying,” Chevalier stated.
“We have been making an attempt to assist individuals, 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 buddies acquired 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. “One way or the other I acquired evacuated with my good friend, so I’m very, very fortunate.”
The 2 associates stated their slight frames made them extra susceptible.
“As a result of we’re small in measurement, there (have been) loads of foreigners that have been (a lot) taller and so they have been surrounding us, so at one level you can not have some air, and you then begin to freak out,” Chevalier stated.
In whole, 101 girls and 55 males have been killed within the catastrophe.
Sannier and several other different eyewitnesses who spoke to CNN stated that they noticed a number of individuals pushing into the gang, which is being investigated as a potential set off for the domino impact that happened.
“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.
Data 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.
Pals 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 informed CNN.
Reuss had met Blesi when she spent three weeks touring in Seoul in September. That they had rapidly turn out to be associates, partying collectively and doing karaoke and consuming Korean barbecue, and so they have been planning to journey collectively in Europe.
“He was curious concerning the world,” Reuss stated. “He had so many desires. I’m similar to him. It makes me unhappy.”
Blesi’s father stated his son had “all the time been an adventurer.” He was an Eagle Scout, appreciated basketball and needed to study a number of languages, he stated.
“He had an extremely brilliant future that’s now gone,” he added.
Considered one of Blesi and Chang’s most up-to-date adventures was a mountaineering 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 residence,” Chang stated. “Occurring all these adventures collectively. And exploring one thing that we in all probability haven’t considered a 12 months in the past.”
In addition to mountaineering 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 informed CNN that Blesi was “an absolute nice man.”
“He was sort, open, made you are 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.”