December 2, 2022


Investigators investigating the crowd that killed 156 people during Halloween celebrations in South Korea raided police stations across Seoul on Wednesday.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said investigators raided eight of its offices and seized internal reports and documents related to reports made by members of the public to the 112 emergency number.

Among the offices searched was the Yongsan District Police Station, which monitors the Itaewon nightlife district where the rush took place.

The raids came as Korean authorities faced mounting public pressure and anger, with witnesses saying there was little to no crowd control in Itaewon on the night of the crush — despite police receiving warnings well in advance.

Saturday’s deadly crowd occurred in a stretch of narrow streets where witnesses described being unable to move or breathe as huge crowds gathered on a street no more than 4 meters wide. It has since emerged that members of the public had called police hours before the first deaths were reported to warn of the overcrowding.

Wednesday’s raids were carried out by a special investigative unit set up just a day earlier by the National Police Agency (NPA) to investigate the disaster.

The NPA said Wednesday it had suspended the chief of the Yongsan Police Station, one of the police stations closest to the scene of the clash.

“Chief Lee Im-jae is unable to perform his normal duties given the situation,” the NPA said, adding that his replacement would be announced later that day.

Records given to CNN by the NPA show that four hours before the incident, police received at least 11 calls from people in Itaewon concerned about the possibility of a crowd.

The first call came at 6:34 p.m., when a caller warned, “It looks really dangerous… I’m afraid people might get crushed.”

Less than two hours later, another caller asked for traffic control and said there were so many people crammed into Itaewon’s narrow streets that they kept falling and injuring themselves.

Halloween Crush investigators raid police stations across Seoul

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, NPA chief Yoon Hee-keun admitted for the first time that the police made mistakes in their response.

“There were a number of reports on the police emergency number indicating the seriousness of the (situation) just before the accident happened,” he said. “A large crowd reportedly gathered prior to the accident and the police emergency number was reported (informed of the danger).”

He added that the police response to the 911 calls was “inadequate” and that he felt “a great responsibility” as the agency chief.

At Tuesday’s press conference, he announced the establishment of the Special Investigation Unit, which conducted Wednesday’s raids.

The unit will “transparently reveal the truth,” Yoon promised.

Police guard the site of the crowds in Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea on October 30.

Other government agencies have also admitted to being unprepared. The Home Office said Monday it had no guidelines for dealing with the mass flooding because it was not caused by a single event with a single organiser.

“One of the reasons (for the disaster) was a lack of deep institutional knowledge and consideration for crowd management,” Premier Han Duck-soo said on Tuesday.

He added that even if more police had been deployed, it might have been ineffective because “we don’t have a crowd management system”.