Steven Blesi: American scholar killed in Seoul Halloween crush was ‘curious concerning the world’



CNN
 — 

When he arrived within the South Korean metropolis of Seoul in late August, American alternate scholar Steven Blesi shortly developed a large circle of pals from world wide.

The 20-year-old from Atlanta was learning on the metropolis’s Hangyang College, as a part of a US examine overseas program. He had deliberate to fulfill up with a number of individuals from the course on Saturday within the Itaewon district of Seoul, to rejoice Halloween with hundreds of different younger revelers.

However when he didn’t present up, his family and friends started a frantic search to trace him down, earlier than ultimately studying that he had died within the crowd crush in an overcrowded alleyway which killed 156 principally younger individuals.

Blesi’s finest pal on this system was Ian Chang, 21, from Florida, who was additionally his neighbor of their college dorms.

“We pretty much like adventures, doing spontaneous stuff,” Chang instructed CNN in an unique interview this week. “And just exploring the city.”

Blesi cherished “dancing, drinking, having fun,” Chang mentioned, and “every time he met someone new, he had a big impact on them.”

On Saturday evening, Chang and Blesi have been supposed to fulfill within the slender streets of Itaewon, a well-liked district lined with nightclubs, bars and quick meals retailers. The pair had been collectively earlier that day, then Chang had gone residence to get modified.

“At the beginning we just wanted to go to Itaewon to see how it was, see what’s so special about Halloween there,” Chang mentioned. “Because we heard from people (that) Itaewon is going to be big on Halloween.”

However when he arrived in Itaewon round 9:40 p.m., Chang started to appreciate the hazard that was unfolding. He despatched Blesi a Snapchat message at 10:17 p.m. urging him to keep away from Itaewon, and to fulfill up within the neighborhood of Hongdae as a substitute.

“It’s too packed. And there’s no place to go,” Chang’s message mentioned.

As information unfold of the horror that unfolded within the Itaewon alleyway over the subsequent few hours, Blesi’s different pals additionally tried calling and messaging him.

“You can come to my place … it’s safe here. Where are you Steven?” messaged 24-year-old Belgian alternate scholar, Wassim Essebane, at round 1 a.m. on Sunday through KakaoTalk, a South Korean messaging app just like WhatsApp.

One other pal, Stefanie Reuss, 22, was additionally making an attempt to trace Blesi down from her residence greater than 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) away in Austria. Reuss helped to lift the alarm, by posting messages on Instagram and Twitter looking for him.

Stefanie Reuss, Ian Chang and Steven Blesi.

One of many individuals Reuss was contacted by was 19-year-old Olivia Kim from Houston, Texas, who had been courting Blesi for a couple of weeks. Kim had been planning to go to Itaewon on Saturday evening, however modified plans on the final minute. She was resulting from go on a date with Blesi on Sunday afternoon.

“Steven and I have been talking to each other nearly everyday for about a month after going on our first date in early October,” Kim instructed CNN. “I immediately adored his emotional generosity, wit, adventurous spirit, and optimistic personality.”

Kim had misplaced contact with Blesi on Saturday, and when he nonetheless didn’t reply on Sunday morning, she started to fret that he was one of many victims.

Again residence in Atlanta, Blesi’s father, Steve, was additionally rising more and more determined.

“Maybe a half hour before this tragedy took place, I texted him in WhatsApp … ‘I know you’re out and about. Stay safe. I love you.’ And I never got a response back,” Blesi’s father mentioned.

Over the subsequent few hours, the repeated missed calls and messages went unanswered.

At round 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, Chang mentioned Blesi’s mom had emailed him, searching for assist in monitoring down her son. Chang mentioned they tried to name across the hospitals in Seoul, enlisting their Korean-speaking pals to assist.

However round noon on Sunday, all of them discovered the information they feared essentially the most, after being instructed by Blesi’s father, who had been knowledgeable by the US embassy.

One other American scholar from this system, 20-year-old Anne Gieske from Kentucky, additionally died within the crowd crush on Saturday evening. She had been with Blesi earlier within the night, though it’s not clear in the event that they have been collectively after they died.

Earlier within the night, the younger partygoers had thought the overpacked streets within the Itaewon district of Seoul have been a part of the enjoyable of the Halloween expertise.

“At the beginning we thought it was funny,” mentioned Anne-Lou Chevalier, a 22-year-old French alternate scholar who survived the group crush. “We heard Halloween in Itaewon was amazing.”

However when an estimated 100,000 individuals ultimately crammed into the slender lanes and alleyways, panic started to set in.

“We (started) to be very, very stuck together and crushed, and then we heard some people screaming and crying,” Chevalier mentioned.

“We were trying to help people, because there were a lot of people (who) couldn’t breathe,” mentioned her pal 18-year-old Alice Sannier, additionally from France.

Police stand guard next to the alley where a fatal crowd crush took place during Halloween celebrations in the district of Itaewon in Seoul.

The buddies bought separated within the chaos of the group, and Chevalier fainted twice within the crush, including that it felt “like dying.”

“I remember that I had no air, so I started suffocating,” Chevalier mentioned. “Somehow I got evacuated with my friend, so I’m very, very lucky.”

The 2 pals mentioned their slight frames made them extra susceptible.

“Because we are small in size, there (were) a lot of foreigners that were (much) taller and they were surrounding us, so at one point you cannot have some air, and then you start to freak out,” Chevalier mentioned.

In complete, 101 girls and 55 males have been killed within the catastrophe.

Sannier and several other different eyewitnesses who spoke to CNN mentioned that they noticed a number of individuals pushing into the group, which is being investigated as a attainable set off for the domino impact that befell.

“Everyone was pushing, that’s why so many people were dying,” Sannier mentioned, including that they didn’t see any cops after they have been within the packed alleyway.

Information present eleven calls had been made to police to warn concerning the state of affairs in Itaewon earlier than the crush occurred on Saturday night, and the top of South Korea’s Nationwide Police Company has mentioned that the police response to these calls was “inadequate.” An investigation is underway.

Mates and households of the victims are solely simply starting to course of what occurred to their family members, a lot of whom have been simply beginning out in life.

“It is unimaginable,” Reuss instructed CNN.

Reuss had met Blesi when she spent three weeks touring in Seoul in September. That they had shortly grow to be pals, partying collectively and doing karaoke and consuming Korean barbecue, and so they have been planning to journey collectively in Europe.

“He was curious about the world,” Reuss mentioned. “He had so many dreams. I am very similar to him. It makes me sad.”

Blesi’s father mentioned his son had “always been an adventurer.” He was an Eagle Scout, preferred basketball and needed to study a number of languages, he mentioned.

“He had an incredibly bright future that is now gone,” he added.

One among Blesi and Chang’s most up-to-date adventures was a mountaineering journey a couple of weeks in the past, to the mountainous island of Jeju off the southwest coast of South Korea.

Steven Blesi, Ian Chang and Anne Gieske on a hiking trip to Jeju.

“We (were) just all impressed by how far we’ve been from home,” Chang mentioned. “Going on all these adventures together. And exploring something that we probably haven’t thought of a year ago.”

In addition to mountaineering and having fun with the meals and nightlife of South Korea, Blesi additionally cherished its cultural traditions.

“He’d never been to Asia so he really wanted to explore,” Chang mentioned. “He was really excited to go into, for example, temples.”

His pal Essebane instructed CNN that Blesi was “an absolute great guy.”

“He was kind, open, made you feel comfortable, had such a warm personality, and he was funny,” Essebane mentioned. “I’ll never forget about him.”

A memorial to Steven Blesi outside the Business studies building at Hangyang University, where he was studying on an exchange program.

In just a few months of figuring out one another, Chang mentioned he had come to consider Blesi as his “brother.”

“Steven was the kindest person there ever was,” Chang mentioned.

“I’m just glad to have had him in my life,” he added. “I wish I could have made more memories with him.”