South Korean police officer under investigation over Halloween crush found dead at home

A South Korean police officer under scrutiny for the deadly Halloween stampede has been found dead in a case of suspected suicide.

The official, identified as 55-year-old Inspector Jeong, was under investigation for the police’s response to the crush on 29 October that claimed 156 lives and left 198 injured.

Also an intelligence official working with the Yongsan Police Station in Seoul, he was suspended on Wednesday for allegedly covering up the police failings and ordering the deletion of an intelligence report that warned about the possibility of a crush at the Halloween event.

His body was recovered from his home in Seoul by a family member at around 12.45pm, reported Yonhap News Agency, citing unnamed police officials.

Earlier lawmakers slammed the suspected removal of the documents at a parliamentary session on Monday, demanding the arrest and punishment of those responsible.

National police commissioner general Yoon Hee Keun said that the intelligence chief at the Yongsan station had ordered the records to be deleted and would be investigated.

The crowd crush in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district, caused an outpouring of public sympathy towards the dead, mostly in their twenties and thirties, and demands for accountability for the tragedy. They were among an estimated 100,000 people who gathered in the Itaewon party district to celebrate the first post-pandemic Halloween.

The police have faced bitter criticism from the public and scrutiny over their handling of the tragedy, especially after the release of transcripts of emergency calls which showed that many people raised alarm over the imminent danger and had asked for help hours before the fatal crush occurred.

Police have since admitted “heavy responsibility“ for failures in preventing and responding to the crowd surge, with president Yoon Suk Yeol acknowledging that South Korea lacks studies on crowd management and ordering officials to formulate effective crowd control methods based on high-tech resources such as drones.

National police chief Yoon Hee Keun said police officers who received urgent calls from those in the crowds failed to handle them effectively, adding: “Police will do their best to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.”

Additional reporting from the wires