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[Newsmaker] Friend of medical student found dead in Han River speaks out

People hold a rally for the late Sohn Jung-min at a park along the Han River in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
People hold a rally for the late Sohn Jung-min at a park along the Han River in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
The case of a 21-year-old medical student found dead in the Han River on April 30, which has received much media interest, took a new turn on Monday as his friend spoke out through his lawyer for the first time.

Sohn Jung-min went missing early on April 25 after drinking overnight with his friend at a riverside park in Banpo, Seoul, and was found dead in the river days later.

As Sohn’s father desperately looked for his son, and after he told the press that he wanted to know how his son got into the river, the case drew nationwide attention. Since May 3, over 430,000 South Koreans have signed an online petition on the website of the presidential office calling for a thorough investigation.

Sohn’s father, Sohn Hyun, has expressed his ill feelings toward his son’s friend.

The friend said both he and Jung-min had fallen asleep and that at around 4:30 a.m. he had woken up and gone home alone, thinking Jung-min had gone home too. The friend had called his parents at 3:37 a.m., but said he had fallen asleep again after that.

After Jung-min’s friend went home, he went back to the riverside park with his parents to look for Jung-min. They arrived there at about 5:10 a.m.

The friend’s mother called Jung-min’s mother at about 5:30 a.m., asking her if Jung-min had gone home.

Jung-min’s mother said in an interview with a magazine that she couldn’t understand why the friend’s parents had not called her earlier.

The friend had Jung-min’s phone, and told Jung-min’s parents that he couldn’t remember how he had gotten it as he had been drunk.

Despite wild speculation on the internet over what may have happened, the friend said nothing until his lawyer told a television program aired on Saturday that “providing our explanation would be arguing about the truth with the bereaved family, which is not the right thing to do to the bereaved family” as “this is a time to remember the dead and offer consolation to the bereaved family.”

According to Sohn Hyun, the friend never called him or his wife once to offer any words of condolence.

On Monday, the friend’s lawyer Chung Byeong-won said in a statement that his client was “too drunk to remember how much he drank.”

About the friend’s shoes that had been disposed of, the lawyer said the shoes were old and had vomit on them, so the mother threw them out with other garbage on the morning of April 26.

According to the lawyer, the parents were ashamed that their son had drunk so much in a public place and failed to look after his friend.

The 21-year-old didn’t even remember that he had called his mother at 3:37 a.m. His father had answered the phone and told him to wake his friend up, send him home and come home, according to the lawyer.

At around 4:15 a.m., the parents got up again as firefighters were visiting units in their apartment building following a report of a fire in the apartment complex.

As it was past time her son should have returned, the mother called him at 4:27 a.m. only to find his phone had been turned off.

When the friend’s father asked his son how much he had had to drink, he hadn’t been able to answer properly, so he asked him whether Jung-min had gone home and the 21-year-old said he didn’t know, according to the lawyer.

This made the father worry that Jung-min might still be sleeping at the park and decided to go look for him himself as it was “too early” to call his parents, Chung said.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com
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