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A Seoul police officer, under investigation after the crowd crush, is found dead

Among the flowers left at the alleyway where more than 150 people were killed in a crowd crush, a poster references the time — 6:34 p.m. — when police received the first call warning of the dangerous crowd size, about four hours before the crush turned deadly.

A South Korean police officer who was under investigation in connection to the deadly crowd crush on Halloween weekend in Seoul has been found dead.

The policeman, a 55-year-old officer identified only by his surname, Jeong, was in charge of intelligence affairs at the Yongsan district police station, which oversees the area where the crowd crush took place.

On the night of Oct. 29, more than 100,000 partygoers flocked to the Itaewon area of Seoul, crowding bars and packing the neighborhood's narrow streets and alleys.

But the crowd grew out of control. In one small alleyway next to a hotel, people became packed so tightly that they could not move; eventually, more than 150 people were killed and nearly 200 more injured.

Jeong was accused of destroying evidence that police knew of the crowd risk. He was found dead in his home on Friday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. The cause of his death is under investigation.

The police response has been the focus of criticism

Seoul's police force has come under criticism and scrutiny for their actions that night — both its failure to manage the crowd safely before the crush, and its slow response afterward — and for how it handled its response in the days that followed, initially deflecting blame.

Police had anticipated a large crowd, yet did not enforce crowd control measures, authorities say. Just 137 officers were assigned to Itaewon that evening, and they were tasked with crime enforcement, not crowd control, authorities say.

Dispatchers received at least 11 emergency calls before the crush turned fatal — the first arriving at 6:34 p.m., about four hours before authorities say the first deaths took place. But Seoul police dispatched few officers in response.

Opposition lawmakers have called for a parliamentary probe into the stampede. And the families of some victims say they plan to file a class action lawsuit to get compensation from the government.

Earlier this month, a special investigation team from the country's national police force raided the local police agencies in Seoul and the Yongsan ward, where Itaewon is located.

Jeong, as the intelligence chief at the Yongsan station, has been accused of destroying evidence that police knew of the crowd risk. He was suspected of deleting an internal report that contained warnings about potential safety risks around Halloween.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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