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Families of S. Korea Ferry Victims Struggle to Move on

  • Reuters

Kim Young-lae, right, and Kim Sung-sil, parents of Kim Dong-hyuk, a high school student who died in the Sewol ferry disaster, pose for a photograph in their son's room, Ansan, South Korea, April 8, 2015.

Kim Young-lae, right, and Kim Sung-sil, parents of Kim Dong-hyuk, a high school student who died in the Sewol ferry disaster, pose for a photograph in their son's room, Ansan, South Korea, April 8, 2015.

The bed is gone from Kim Dong-hyuk's room, but everything else remains as it was before the South Korean teenager drowned, along with 249 fellow students of the Danwon High School, when the Sewol ferry capsized last year.

Since the April 16 disaster, which killed a total of 304 people, many of the grieving parents in this industrial city on the outskirts of Seoul have left their lost children's bedrooms intact, unable to put away mementos and items of daily use.

From the desktop computer Dong-hyuk used to play games and a therapy machine for a skin allergy to the MP3 player found clutched in his dead son's hand, Kim Young-lae finds himself unable to give up his middle child's belongings.

Apart from the removal of the bed, the only change is the addition of a portrait of the 16-year-old.

“I sometimes talk to him in the picture,” said a tearful Kim. “But I can't look at his eyes, Dong-hyuk's eyes, because I am still sorry.”

Stuffed animals, books and clothes still clutter the bedrooms of many children lost when the Sewol sank near southwestern Jindo island during a pre-exam trip.

Nearly a year after the tragedy involving a ship later found to have been overloaded and structurally unsound and a rescue operation widely seen to have been botched, emotions still run high among victims' families.

Traumatized

Anger and shame persist for many in a country that was traumatized by the disaster.

Legislation over an investigation into the sinking is snarled in political wrangling, amid public demands for the government to raise the ship and retrieve nine bodies still missing.

The government is likely to decide to salvage the vessel, Lee Wan-koo, the prime minister, told parliament on Monday.

Dong-hyuk's last message was filmed on a friend's cellphone, capturing the confusion of the moments before his death.

The ship, which had been bound for the holiday island of Jeju, was sinking as Dong-hyuk, wearing a life vest, said: “I have to say a last word before I die: Mom and Dad, I love you.”

Kim, who works as a welder, said he considered suicide after his son's death. The family plans to retain the rest of Dong-hyuk's belongings, although the empty bed was too much to bear.

“He asked a relative to throw away Dong-hyuk's bed before coming back home from Jindo island because he felt like he couldn't walk into the house if the bed was still there,” said Kim Sung-sil, the boy's mother.

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