2 American college students among 150 people killed in South Korea Halloween crowd surge

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Tuesday, November 1, 2022
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Two American college students, Steven Blesi from Georgia and Anne Gieske from Kentucky, were among the more than 150 people killed in the Halloween surge.

SEOUL, South Korea -- Two American college students were among the more than 150 people killed when a huge Halloween party crowd surged into a narrow alley in a nightlife district in Seoul, the school said Sunday.

Anne Gieske, a nursing student from northern Kentucky, died in the crush of people in the Itaewon area of Seoul on Saturday night, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a statement posted on the school's website.

Anne Gieske

Gieske was studying in South Korea this semester with an education abroad program, Capilouto said. The university also has two other students and a faculty member there, but they have been contacted and they are safe, he said.

"We have been in contact with Anne's family and will provide whatever support we can - now and in the days ahead - as they cope with this indescribable loss," the statement said.

The university is located in Lexington, Kentucky. The school has offered online and phone resources for students who are grieving, including the services of a mental health clinician. The university has nearly 80 students from South Korea, the statement said.

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"As a community, it is a sacred responsibility we must keep - to be there for each other in moments of sheer joy and in those of deepest sadness," Capilouto said. "That is what compassionate communities do."

Steven Blesi, 20, from Georgia, was the second American who died, his father Steve Blesi wrote on Twitter after earlier seeking information about his son.

Steven Blesi

Steve Blesi said his son had "always been an adventurer." He was an Eagle Scout, liked basketball and wanted to learn multiple languages, he said.

Blesi appealed for information after not hearing from his son, asking: "If anyone has any news please share." After a flood of responses offering help and support, he tweeted: "We just got confirmation our son died," followed by "Thank you for the outpouring of love. We need time to grieve."

One of the two Japanese dead is Mei Tomikawa, who was studying Korean language in Seoul, according to Japanese media. Her father Ayumu Tomikawa told Japan's NHK television station that his daughter "really liked South Korea and was enjoying her life there." He and his wife reportedly left their home on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido to come to Seoul.

South Korean President Yoon on Sunday declared a one-week national mourning period and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff.

It remained unclear what led the crowd to surge into the downhill alley, and authorities promised a thorough investigation. Witnesses said people fell on each other "like dominoes," and some victims were bleeding from their noses and mouths while being given CPR.

As of Monday morning, the government said it has identified 153 of the 154 dead people and informed bereaved relatives of their identifications. Nearly two-thirds of the dead - 98 - were women. It said 149 others remain injured. The death count could rise farther as officials said 33 of the injured were in serious conditions.

More than 80% of the dead were in their 20s or 30s and 11 were teenagers, the Interior Ministry release said.

The dead also included 26 foreigners. Five of them are from Iran; four from China; four from Russia; two from Japan; one each from Australia, Norway, France, Austria, Vietnam, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka, according to the Interior Ministry.

As the identifications of the dead neared completion, bereaved families were expected to begin funerals for their loved ones. Officials said the government will provide necessary support to bereaved relatives for funeral procedures.

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The Associated Press & The CNN Wire contributed to this report.