During my time in Korea I worked at two middle schools. For the first year and a half I taught at an all boys’ middle school, and for my last year, an all girls’ middle school in the area was added. Monday-Wednesday I was at the girls’ school, and Thursday-Friday I was at the boys’ school.
I was having lunch in the teacher’s dining area one day with my co-teachers. What often happens to foreign teachers is that when having a meal with your co-teachers, they’ll speak to each other in Korean, and you’ll just kind of sit there in your own little world, (unless you know Korean of course). In the midst of their discussion, the eldest co-teachers asks me if I understood what they were talking about, which of course I did not. She then proceeds to tell me a story of how in the 90’s there was a man who kidnapped a female student in the area, raped her, and put her body in a water tower.
Local police in conjunction with Seoul detectives lead a massive manhunt for the guy, which lasted several days, and made national news. This guy was an adult when he committed this crime, but had attended the school I was teaching at as a middle schooler. For that reason, the school had had a bit of a bad reputation ever since.
I was so shocked because Korea rates pretty low on the murder scale, and this was the first instance of something like that happening that I had heard of, (I was about 6 months into my time there at this point). Later on, the principal had my main co-teacher translate to me that the area I was living in wasn’t the safest in Busan, that there had been some assault cases, and to be careful. Again, I was pretty alerted. I lived in the same apartment during my entire time in Korea and felt safe, however in comparison to other areas of Busan, mine overall wasn’t the safest.
Fast forward to about a year and a half later. My main co-teacher at the girls’ school I worked at and I were walking through the neighborhood to get to an E-mart, for supplies for summer camp. (E-mart is like Korea’s version of Walmart, but better. These stores and others like them even have food courts inside!) The school was a few minutes walk from the main street, with only one way roads, and was littered with alleyways. I’d noticed that there were always older people who stood outside of the school gates and into the alleyways, before and after school. They’d wear something like crossing guard vests. So I asked her why they were there.
She starts to tell me the story of how there was once a student at the school who was kidnapped, raped, murdered, and her body put in a water tower. As she were telling me this, I realized that I was teaching at both schools connected to this murder. It was definitely a, “this can not be happening” moment. All I could think of, was what were the chances of this happening to me? I’d come literally across the world to teach in Korea, to find out that something horrible was connected to the two schools. As we walked on, she then goes on to tell me that we were currently walking in the alleyway where the girl was kidnapped. It definitely felt as if I were in a weird Lifetime movie or something! She goes on to say that teachers who work late, and don’t have a car, can call the police station and an officer will escort them to the bus/subway station.
Despite this really unusual story, if you read my blog about being a singe woman in Korea, then you know that I actually felt quite safe during my stay there regardless of what the statistics in the area were. I did see detectives searching for someone once a few subway stops from my apartment, but that was it. Of course I appreciated the heads up from the principal on the area I was living in, maybe others would have felt more in danger there, I don’t know. I was born and raised in inner city Miami, so honestly no place in Korea ever felt quite as dangerous as that! Nevertheless, heinous crimes such as this one are rare, and were even more so in the 90’s.
For those of you questioning what a bunch of old retirees would really be able to do in the face of danger, you have clearly never come in contact with a Korean 아줌마, (ajumma) or 아저씨, (ajussi) (older women and men).
If you’re interested in more, I did a video on this story while I was still in Korea some time after I had found out. Check it out here: