International Herald Tribue-JoongAng Daily
Soe Jung Kim Staff Reporter, National Desk
Mother's comments in Red
Mom says son’s death is not a mere accident
May 26, 2008
To Stephanie White, a 40-year-old woman from North Carolina in the United States, Michael was a special child. When she became pregnant and her husband said he didn’t want children, she divorced him.
Years later, the still-single mom came to South Korea to learn about Korean culture and understand Korean students. Her goal was to work in an international programs office of a U.S. university.
Stephanie, an English lecturer at Yeungnam University, said she brought Michael with her because she thought Korea was a safe place to raise kids: no drugs and no gangs. And Michael, 14, enjoyed his life here, learning Korean and taekwondo and making friends. What she leaves out is that Mike dropped out of TaeKwonDo because he was just too gentle of a guy to do the sparring.
But the small family’s peaceful life turned into a nightmare on May 10 during a family outing to a jjimjilbang, a Korean sauna, in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province.
Stephanie and two of her friends went into the women’s bathing room around 10 p.m. while Michael headed alone to the men’s bathing room. At 11:20 p.m., Michael was found floating facedown in a 40-centimeter-deep pool. At 11:34 p.m., firefighters arrived to rush him to a hospital where he died. The cause of death was listed as drowning. Actually, he was first seen at 11:02/11:05 but no one did anything.
Stephanie said she can not accept that verdict. “Because there is no evidence of an accident or health problems, there is only one conclusion left, foul play. People don’t just spontaneously drown in 40 centimeters [15.7 inches] of water, especially a 1.8 meter-tall boy in pool 2.6 square meters. Something or someone had to prevent him from getting out of that pool,” Stephanie wrote in an e-mail interview with the JoongAng Daily.
Michael was 6 feet tall and weighed 110 kilograms [242 pounds]. Stephanie also wants to know what happened during the time she was apart from her son at the jjimjilbang: Why didn’t anyone help her son while he was drowning? Why didn’t the sauna staff contact her earlier? Why didn’t the EMT firefighter use a defibrillator? And why didn’t police collect statements from witnesses at the sauna?
“From the best estimate of the staff worker, Mike was first noticed at 11:05 p.m. but the staff person didn’t do anything until 11:20 p.m. and 119 was called at 11:28 p.m.,” said Stephanie. “Had the staff notified me and my friend, we could have performed CPR even earlier.” Stephanie is certified as a CPR caregiver.
“There are over 70 questions I have submitted to the police, and only six have been answered so far. I seek answers to my son’s mysterious death and I seek witnesses,” said she.
The expatriate community in the country has sympathized with her. Silent vigils were held on May 16 near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and on May 18 and yesterday in front of the jjimjilbang in Gyeongsan. Fundraisers have been organized to help Stephanie hire a lawyer and set up a foundation named after Michael.
Discussion boards on Web sites for foreigners in the country have been inundated with postings criticizing Korean paramedics and Koreans who supposedly did not help the teenager while he was struggling in the water by himself. Stephanie claimed that the autopsy told her that Michael had allegedly been coughing and dry retching for some time.
“Everyone is wondering why such a big child suddenly collapsed,” said Huh Ki-young, professor of a forensic science team at Pusan National University. Why focus on "big child" he was 14, nearly 15 and he's supposed to be that big, he's American born & bred. Are we getting ready for the "heart spin"? The doc already told me Mike was only 10 grams in the "danger zone" and this was according to WHAT demographics.... the autopsy "team" still hasn't answered why Mike was bleeding from his mouth & lungs.
The team conducted an autopsy on Michael. I never saw a "team" only the one doctor, Dr. Lee “We have to wait and see the results of a drug test and a biopsy by the National Institute of Scientific Investigation to have an answer to the question.” Huh added that he could not confirm the mother’s claim. “I wonder who gave the mother that information. I believe the claim is very doubtful.” Dont you just love the way they love to spin things with foreigners & drugs... waiting on the drug test... right...... And it was Dr. Lee who gave that information to the Mother.
“Although we are open to all possibilities, we think it is not likely [that the teenager was murdered],” said Jang Byeong-kwan, an investigator with North Gyeongsang Provincial Police Agency. “There were no external injuries to his body. Still, we will not know for sure until the autopsy comes out.” There wouldnt necessarily be external injuries if say 3-4 men were to hold him underwater...(just a theory)
The jimjilbang staff agreed with the police. “I think there are misunderstandings about the situation, especially because of language differences,” said Lee Jeong-seop, a staff member at the sauna. “When a worker first noticed Michael at 11:05 p.m. facedown in the water, he thought the boy was just playing around.” Then why not check to be sure? Regardless of language, if you call out to someone, they turn their heads, look up etc. This is just an excuse for lack of action on the part of Sauna employees.
“Because it was near closing time, there were few people at the men’s section of the sauna. Our staff frequently walk inside and outside the bathing room. It’s not likely that some people hurt the boy or people ignored him while he was suffering.” Why? because Koreans dont want to believe that "bad Koreans" exist? Mike has been spit upon twice before, in PUBLIC and everyone just turned away as if they didn't see. It's not uncommon for foreigners to experience agression on buses & trains by Koreans who just dont like us having a ticket seat nearby them. If the police dont examine ALL possiblities, then they are not doing their jobs.
Lee admitted that the staff did not perform CPR on Michael while they waited for the EMT firefighters to arrive. “We didn’t know what his problem was and we didn’t want to do anything wrong,” said Lee.
Lee said he was the one who tried to contact the mother on the day Michael died. “At first, we called 119, and I contacted the front desk on the first floor of the building to find the boy’s guardian. As we were told that he came with three women, we contacted the female bathing room on the second floor to look for the mother. So, let's think about this... it took you how many minutes after calling EMT's to find the mom? 11:28-11;45=17 minutes to notify the mom>?? the foreign mom who would definately stand out in a crowd?
The mother and her friends came out when the firefighters were about to leave the building with the boy in an ambulance.” Gyeongsan Fire Department also argued that there was nothing wrong with their emergency treatment on the boy.
“On the day, we received a report that a person abruptly collapsed at a jimjilbang,” said Sim Young-soon, a staff at Gyeongsan Fire Department. “The emergency staffer did what he had to do, following protocols. The mother probably thought he was not doing his best because she only saw him in the ambulance. It is not easy to do CPR right in an ambulance.” Uh, where were the defibrillator marks on Mike's chest? Why was the breath mask taken out half way in route to the hospital but never used?
The foundation Stephanie plans to establish for Michael will be dedicated to train college students in CPR. “I feel nothing in my heart now but aching emptiness and cold anger,” wrote Stephanie about her loss. “In an emergency every minute, every second is vital.”
By Kim Soe-jung Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]