As parents of the dead wept, more than 70 teenagers who survived a ferry sinking that killed hundreds of their schoolmates walked in a somber procession today to their first classes since the April disaster.
Some of the 73 students, wearing white and black uniforms and carrying book bags, bowed their heads as they cried and walked slowly from a bus to the school entrance. Some stopped to hug the parents of their friends, who caressed their hair and faces. Adults carried banners of encouragement. One read: “We pray the dead will rest in peace.” Another simply said: “I love you.”
The anger, grief and deep remorse at Danwon High School in Ansan, outside of Seoul, was a reflection of what many South Koreans have felt since the April 16 sinking that left more than 300 people dead or missing. Of the 325 students on a class trip to the southern holiday island of Jeju, 75 were rescued, 245 died and 5 are still missing. Two of those rescued had already returned to school, officials said.
The return to classes of the survivors, who had been staying at a facility in Ansan where they had classes and therapy sessions, comes amid court hearings for the ferry crew and the officials from the company that owned it. Many South Koreans also fault the government, the coast guard and even society for failing the victims.
“We ask for a thorough investigation to find out why our friends and teachers had to become victims and why the rescue efforts didn’t proceed properly and led to more victims,” one of the surviving students, Shin Young-jin, said in an emotional address. “We hope that you will try to create a safer nation so that such a horrible accident never happens again.”
After decades of negligence, many South Koreans are now questioning the country’s history of ignoring safety issues as it pursued rapid economic development above all else following the devastation of the Korean War, which began 64 years ago Wednesday with a North Korean invasion.
The government of President Park Geun-hye, whose dictator father ruled during the economic boom in the 1960s and 1970s that was dubbed the “Miracle on the Han,” after the river that cuts through Seoul, has been battered by criticism that it should have done more before the sinking on safety and monitoring issues and that its incompetence botched the rescue operations.