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American Students Killed in Seoul Stampede

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

By: Sydney Spack, Red & Black Contributing Writer

Photo Credit: Anthony Wallace
NOV 4 - In South Korea, a period of mourning has been declared by President Yoon Suk-yeol. This announcement comes following the grim events on the evening of Oct. 30, 2022. In the nation’s capital, Seoul, is a smaller district known as Itaewon. The district is most recognizable for its vibrant nightlife and eccentric events thus, making it a popular destination during holidays, such as Halloween, for younger generations.

Crowds were drawn to the area in mass amounts for the Halloween celebration, considerably more so this year than any year prior. This is largely in part due to this particular event being one of the first to occur since the beginning of the pandemic. Event goers filled the streets in colorful, ornate costumes to celebrate the night, but as they continued to flood in, the already limited amount of space for movement continually decreased. Eventually, it became impossible for participants to move at all. For Seoul, large crowd sizes are typical. No one batted an eye to the increasing crowd sizes, but once the disaster began to unfold it was impossible to stop. Chaos consumed the city in one fell swoop.

Raphael Rashid, a reporter present during the tragic event, explained to BBC, “There were tens of thousands of people, the most I’ve ever seen. So many people – to the point we were being crushed on the pavement.” According to other onlookers and survivors that the BBC interviewed, the scene was similar to that of war. Bloodied individuals fled once they were able to free themselves from the piles of bodies. Others rushed into the chaotic scene trying to find lost friends and family members. The death toll has risen to 154, making it one of the worst stampedes in South Korea’s history.

"The death toll has risen to 154, making it one of the worst stampedes in South Korea’s history."

Of those lives, lost 26 were foreigners. Two of them were Americans, both 20-year-old students who were studying abroad at the time- Steven Blesi and Anne Gieske. Gieske, a junior, was attending the University of Kentucky to study nursing. Just one day prior to the fateful night, she had celebrated her 20th birthday. Blesi, also a junior, was a student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. His major at the university was international business. Steve Blesi’s father told The New York Times that he had texted his son the night of the tragedy saying, “’I know you’re out and about. Be safe’”, but sadly, he “never got a reply to it.” Each of their families were notified of the devastating news by the U.S. Embassy in South Korea.
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