The son who talked about ‘dreams of being a nurse’…”disappeared like smoke”

The first call to the police came at 6:34 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29: “I feel like I’m being overwhelmed.” The tragedy of the Itaewon attack, which left 159 people dead, could have been prevented if authorities had responded properly. <Every Saturday at 6:34 p.m., My News will tell the story of the victims of Itaewon. We will not forget the tragedy. <Editor’s note

Ms. Kim Hee-jung reminisces about her son’s photo in a room filled with his traces.
ⓒ Kwon Woo-sung

He was born weak at 1.9 kilograms and was bullied at every opportunity until elementary school. Despite this, he never came home crying. He was told, “If you cry, you lose,” and he held back his tears. Worried, his mother sought out bullying prevention classes at the local ward office and education office. However, when he went to middle school, things definitely changed.

“Mom, Min-seok didn’t do anything wrong,” he said, “because if you put up with being attacked early on, you’ll be targeted again and again.”

The day he got into a fight with a friend who threw trash on his desk, his mom noticed a change in him in the words of his teacher in the staff room. “He said no, he protested, he fought back,” and that’s how he started to learn to defend himself. His friendships grew naturally. In high school, he became a class officer. In October 2022, when he was accepted into his dream nursing program and about to enlist as a nurse officer, Min-seok “disappeared like smoke” from Itaewon, according to his mother.

A son’s wildest dreams

The Catholic baptismal name of the late Choi Min-seok (born in 2002), a victim of the Itaewon massacre, is Raphael. It is a saint who heals the body and mind, so it is a popular name among medical practitioners.

“My Min-seok really lived like Raphael.”

Mom recalled these words from her son’s Sunday school priest at the funeral home. From childhood photos of him posing with a stethoscope and a lab coat to the numerous awards he received in science and math competitions, she realized that her son had been chasing this dream for a long time.

A commemorative photo of the late Mr. Choi Min-seok (Raphael) at his First Communion.
ⓒ Kwon Woo-sung

A childhood photo of the late Mr. Choi Min-seok wearing a medical device toy and a photo of him practicing as a student nurse.
Woo Sung Kwon

At first, Min-seok’s mother, Kim Hee-jung, was against the idea because she thought it would be hard work, but her son’s determination was clear. Min-seok’s mother, Kim Hee-jeong, told Oh My News on the 11th that “he loved the job of being a nurse so much.” When he finally succeeded in enrolling in a nursing program, after registering and canceling five times at different universities, he was overjoyed. “I have a plan,” he told his worried mother, briefing her on his plans, from joining the military to taking the national nursing exam to working overseas.

“So, mom, if I do it, and it’s hard, I can do it again in different ways, just let me try.”

At her son’s honorary graduation ceremony, organized by the school, in February, his mother heard many affectionate and sincere anecdotes from his advisors and friends. There were many things she didn’t know about her son: He had moved away from home as an adult and lived on his own. He always offered to eat first with his friends who were having a hard time adjusting to the new school, and changed the mood of his friends by performing magic tricks when they were in a bad mood. To his professors, he was a student who always asked and consulted about his career and qualifications. Because of this, Min-seok received scholarships every time without worrying about tuition.

Mom still hasn’t filed a death certificate

Min-seok’s room is filled with all of his life’s records: the belly button he saved for when he married and had children, the first pair of walker shoes he ever wore, the ceramic toys he made in kindergarten, the awards and Mother’s Day letters he kept in a file, and his own drawings. The only record of her son that remains empty is the last trace of the day of his death, which she was unable to obtain from the state.

Ms. Kim kept the late Choi Min-seok’s belly button and shoes to give to her son when he got married and had a baby.
ⓒ Kwon Woo-sung

And Min-seok’s urn was on the desk. She hadn’t sent him off yet.

“I couldn’t make the papers, so I didn’t register Min-seok’s death. I asked him to do it when I died. I was left with a ridiculous funeral. Out of the 20 years of my child’s life, if you take out the time he spent in kindergarten, school, and cram school, he was with me for about seven years…”

Although she has already paid the management fee to a local memorial center, she said she couldn’t leave her son at such a long distance. “I think about it every day,” she says, “but I still can’t. She made a jade-colored light bead from some of her son’s ashes. Whenever people came to visit her on her birthday, she always kept the beads with her.

The votive box on the desk of the late Mr. Choi Min-seok.
ⓒ Kwon Woo-sung

What she saw and heard that night

On the day of the tragedy, Min-seok’s entire wallet, which contained his ID, certificates, and blood donation card, was stolen. She was desperate to find her son’s wallet, which he had matched with a friend, but it didn’t come home until January 2 of this year via registered mail from the police station. What hasn’t come back are the traces and records of my son’s death. Even after filing a freedom of information request, she was not told what medical treatment her son received on the day of the tragedy or what route he was transported메이저사이트.

But that night, she witnessed the tragedy with her own two eyes, and what she saw and heard is still vivid in her memory. It started with a phone call at 11:30 p.m., just as she sat down to a late dinner after work.

“At 11:37 p.m. (Oct. 29), Min-seok’s number rang. ‘Uh, Min-seok,’ I said, ‘It’s a strange woman,’ and she said, ‘Who are you? I said, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘I think it’s your son, but he collapsed here in front of a convenience store next to the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, and I’ve been doing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) for more than 20 minutes.’ She said, ‘He’s unconscious, so please come quickly.’ I said, ‘Please, don’t hang up,’ and she said, ‘If you stay by my son’s side, I’ll come, and it won’t take 15 minutes, it’ll only take 10 minutes. I need you to wait.”