Three years and six months since the Sewol ferry sank in waters off Jindo, the bereaved families of two Danwon High School victims held a farewell ceremony on Monday.
Attended by victims’ grieving families, officials in charge of the salvage operation and some 30 other people, the ceremony was held following the wishes of the mothers of Cho Eun-hwa and Heo Da-yoon.
“It would have been better to hold funerals for our children with other passengers still missing from the disaster. That’s why we want to call (today’s function) a farewell ceremony,” the families said. The bodies of five passengers are still unaccounted for.
In April, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries began a search of the recovered wreckage and discovered from inside the ferry the remains of Danwon High School teacher Go Chang-suk and student Heo Da-yoon. In the following month, the remains of Danwon High School student Cho Eun-hwa and passenger Lee Young-sook were discovered.
Marking the start of a long-awaited end, families held Saturday a send-off ceremony for two girls at Mokpo Port in South Jeolla Province, where the 6,825-ton ferry that had been lying at a depth of 44 meters since 2014 April was raised on March 23. Since then, the search operation for five unrecovered passengers’ remains has been underway.
Two victims’ portraits were then moved to a multipurpose hall at Seoul City Hall as part of the families’ efforts to express gratitude to the people who had prayed for them and shed tears alongside them. Over the weekend, hundreds of people visited and laid flowers in front of the portraits of Cho and Huh.
Monday’s farewell ceremony was brief. Many watched the two mothers thanking those who wished for the return of their daughters.
“I want to look at her face again,” said Lee Keum-hui, mother of Cho Eun-hwa, approaching the portrait of her smiling daughter. “Thanks to all your prayers, I am now ready to send my daughter to a peaceful place, taken out from the cold freezer which her body was kept for so long.”
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon also attended the ceremony, and could be seen consoling the mothers.
“Knowing no end to the endless sorrow of this tragedy, the entire nation cried and suffered together. Suffering like this should never be repeated,” Park said.
While the families decided not to hold a formal funeral ceremony, portraits were shortly placed at a classroom in Danwon High School, which the two first-year students had attended prior to the tragic sinking. Their bodies will lie at Seoho Funeral Park in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where other Sewol victims have been laid in state.
The search team has yet to find the remains of five of the 304 victims, including two other Danwon High School students, a teacher and a father and son.
By Kim Da-sol (firstname.lastname@example.org