Around 10 days after the April 16 sinking of the ferry Sewol, which killed hundreds of passengers who were mostly high school students on a field trip, the mother of one missing student lamented that she may not be able to identify her son's body if it was found because he did not wear any brand-name clothes. "I didn't have enough money to buy him brand-name clothes and now I'll never have the chance," she said as she wept.
Once a body is found, the description appears on a large monitor in the gymnasium in Jindo where the families of the missing students have been staying since the tragedy. The characteristics are gender, height, clothing and any distinctive physical characteristics. The families undergo a harrowing emotional moment each time the monitor displays such information.
On April 24, one woman in her 20s wept in agony as the description on the monitor matched that of her brother. She had always been among the most active among the family members of victims in calling for more efforts to find the passengers and had remained relatively calm until then.
Her hands shook as she gathered her belongings from the floor of the gymnasium. Tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped from her glasses. Other family members could not take their eyes off of her until she headed off to identify the body.
The same day, another woman learned that the body of her 44-year-old husband had been found. Other family members, who were still waiting for news about their loved ones, told her she was lucky to have found him.
After identifying the bodies of their child, husband or wife, families hold a funeral and finally head home. But those who still remain at the gymnasium keep staring at the monitor.
Some 500,000 people have visited a memorial altar in Ansan, south of Seoul, near the high school where most of the passengers came from. But the families still remaining at the gymnasium in Jindo wonder how much longer they have to wait until they hear any news about their loved ones. As the number of the missing dwindles, so do the numbers of volunteers working at the gym and journalists covering the tragedy. But the hearts of the Korean public should be with them until they too find their loved ones.
By Kim Kang-han from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk