“Dad, I’m going out” were the last words Jung Hae-moon heard his daughter utter at the end of a chat they had on the telephone on Saturday as she turned down an invitation to dinner.
Hours later, 30-year-old Jung Joo-hee was among 156 people, most of them in their teens and 20s, killed in a Halloween crowd crush in the South Korean capital.
On Thursday, the young woman’s family buried her ashes in a peaceful family plot outside Seoul, with a planted sapling and bouquets by her gravestone and a sombre ceremony of prayers and tears.
“Rest well. Mum and dad will come see you,” Jung Hae-moon said as the family stood by, together with his daughter’s pet poodle.
As news of the disaster unfolded on Saturday, Jung Hae-moon dashed to Itaewon, a district of narrow streets full of bars and boutiques, to be met with chaos as distraught youngsters milled about in their Halloween costumes and rows of ambulances collected victims.
More than 12 hours later, he found Jung Joo-hee in a morgue, lifeless, swollen and bruised.
Another grieving father, Song Jae-woong, said his daughter, Young-ju, 24, was a gentle soul who was quick to befriend classmates, more than 200 of whom came to her funeral.
Young-ju had dreamed of becoming an actress, her father said, speaking at a funeral home in Seoul.
Some families had no idea their children were even in the crowd in the Itaewon entertainment district on Saturday evening.
“I had no idea she was there. It was impossible, I couldn’t believe it,” the father of Lim, yet another victim, said at a funeral home as he and his family observed funeral rites. He asked that he and his daughter be identified by just their family name, Lim.
Their grief is being shared by the country as a whole struggling to come to terms with the disaster that ended so many young lives on what should have been an evening of fun.
Many parents wondered why their children were celebrating Halloween in the first place, a totally foreign concept for older Koreans.
But the biggest question for many of those mourning their children is why no safety measures were enforced to control the crowd.
“I am beyond angry. It is outrageous because, in any emergency situation, the country should protect its people and keep them safe,” said Lee Hyo-sook, Joo-hee’s mother.