Two American students were identified on Sunday among the 154 people killed in a stampede during Halloween festivities in Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday night. Anne Gieske and Steven Blesi, both 20, were studying abroad and had gone to attend the Halloween celebrations when they were killed in the horrific stampede.
The tragedy took place as the audience at the Halloween celebration surged and turned disorderly, which led to a fatal stampede. An estimated 100,000 people attended the event in South Korea. According to some reports, the majority of the victims of the incident were teenagers and people in their twenties. An additional 82 were injured during the stampede, the group announced Sunday.
Death During Celebrations
Officials verified that Gieske, a junior in the University of Kentucky's nursing program who had just celebrated her 20th birthday on Friday, was killed in the stampede. Hours after Gieske's terrible death was announced, the family of Blesi, also 20, said that they had been informed that he was also among the 156 who perished.
Blesi was a junior at Georgia's Kennesaw State University. Gieske and Blesi were both participating in study abroad programs through their respective universities.
"I texted him maybe a half-hour before all this happened, and I said, 'I know you're out and about. Be safe,'" Blesi's dad Steve Blesi told The New York Times. "I never got a reply to that."
The grieving father received a call from the US Embassy in South Korea stating his son had died during the Halloween event in the Itaewon area. The distressed father had spent Saturday night desperately attempting to contact Steven.
"It was like it stabbed like a hundred million times simultaneously. It was like your world just collapsing. It was numb and devastating all at the same time," Blesi, 62, told the Times.
Blesi said that his son was roughly two months into a semester study abroad program at Hanyang University in Seoul. After graduation, he was interested in pursuing a career in East Asian international business.
On Saturday, Steven and his friends were out having fun after finishing their exams when they stumbled onto the largest Halloween celebration in two years following the Covid restrictions. He and his friends were among the 100,000 partygoers who were out and about in the well-known nightlife area.
The other student Gieske was also out on Saturday and was enjoying when tragedy struck. She had created an Instagram account in August to document her travels in South Korea. A 2020 graduate of Beechwood High School and a native of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, Gieske participated in the marching band at Beechwood from 2015 to 2020.
In a brief statement, her parents Dan and Madonna stated that their daughter was a devoted Catholic. "We are completely devastated and heartbroken over the loss of Anne Marie. She was a bright light loved by all," the family said.
Gieske had celebrated her 20th birthday in Seoul the day prior, according to Fox 19.
Eli Capilouto, president of the university, verified on Sunday that the other two are currently secure. "We have been in contact with Anne's family and will provide whatever support we can now and in the days ahead as they cope with this indescribable loss," said Capilouto.
"We will be there for those in our community who knew and loved Anne. We also have nearly 80 students from South Korea at UK, members of our community, who will need our support," the University's president continued.
Officials in Seoul, South Korea, said that at least two Americans were among the 26 foreigners that died on Saturday night's stampede. At least four of the dead were teens, while more than 80 percent of the victims were in their 20s and 30s. 56 males and 97 women were among the deceased.
Online videos showed costumed people being pushed through the congested streets. To avoid being crushed, some people appeared to scale the walls on either side.
Additional videos and photos from the scene show body bags, first responders conducting CPR, and rescuers removing unconscious people from the throng. In an effort to save more lives, partygoers who didn't know CPR were taught on the spot; however, several of them passed away before assistance could be given.
The party, which was held in the heart of Seoul, reached its climax when a massive crowd tried to squeeze through a set of cramped passageways while trampling over others. Dozens of those who were injured or killed reportedly suffered cardiac arrests.