No one held his hand .. a not-so-strange story of a high school student

Disclaimer: The following is a chilling but, at the same time, sad and heartbreaking story of a boy who inadvertently killed his own mother reported in the <SisaIn> on Dec.14, 2011. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of original article or with <SisaIn> and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request accordingly. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

No one grabbed the boy’s hand

Song Ji-hye 송지혜 (song@sisain.co.kr)

The door opened and a stench of rotten egg gushed out. It was the trace of his mother lying dead for 8 moths. On last Mar. 20, Ha Seoung-woo (fake id, 18), a senior of A high school (Gwangjin-gu, Seoul), stabbed his mother Park (51) who was sleeping in the bedroom to death. Ha, then, had lived an ordinary life with her dead body in the bed room for 8 months; he had slept, eaten meals, and been to school in the same house. The incident was revealed when his father who had been separated for five years paid a visit to Seung-woo’s house on Nov. 23.

Seung-woo’s house, when I visited on Dec.1, was like a garbage dump. On the ground of living room of 105㎡ villa were messes of empty cracker bags, water pots, blankets, books, etc all tangled up. Among them was an electric mattress which Seung-woo had been sleeping on all the while. All living stuffs in the house were for Seung-woo; two desks, biographies arranged on bookshelves, Harry Potter series, English grammar books, text books and TOEIC problem books …

A drawing of Seoul National University on the wall

Attached all over the walls were notes of study skills such as ‘study method for 17’, ‘English listening, grammar, vocabulary, reading study method’, ‘newspaper → reading books → study social science…’. A drawing of Seoul National University Seung-woo drew when he went there with his parents for fun at the age of 7 was also on one side of the wall with a hand written title ‘Seoul National University’ on it. Also were family photos; Seung-woo and his mother, just the two. Seung-woo’s mother Park was laughing in the picture holding his son in her chest leaning against a wooden post.


Ha Seung-woo (fake it) is being transported to Seongdong detention center on Dec.1 for murdering his mother. ⓒ SisaIN Yoon Moo-young 윤무영

Seung-woo, before that incident, had been a model student as his mother had hoped for. Manager teacher of Seung-woo’s high school said “Seungwoo was an honor student. He had good school records. All had high expectations for him.” He was awarded numerous times; for good grades during all 3 years of his middle school; for good performance on English speech contests of his own school or in national level. In 2009, he was awarded a honor student citation from the head of Gwangjin-gu. One neighbor said “he greeted elders quite well. He was very polite.”

Seung-woo who had been good at English since young made an English study circle when he entered high school. His English was quite well-known in his school; when they were making in-house English newpapers, Seung-woo reviewed other friends articles. He wanted to be an English teacher later though his mother wanted him to be a diplomat. One school friend said “Seung-woo explained English better than teachers.” Another friend of English circle said “he was very enthusiastic of English circle activities. He never missed a meeting and was especially kind to juniors.”

But Seung-woo was not just an ordinary schoolboy. One of his friend said “I could not know what he was thinking. Sometimes he did something hard to understand.” Last year, he brought some gunpowder to school and put fire on it in the corridor, which made his friends shun him ‘inwardly’. In middle school, classmates saw some bloody bruises on his legs while changing to his exercise suits. They asked Seung-woo about the reason but he did not respond to them. A friend who had attended the same school said “from that time, I can understand why Seung-woo wouldn’t want to speak about his family just a little.”

Even on Mar. 19, the day before the murder, Seung-woo’s mother is known to beat him. “You need to get punished.” Her remark was the signal for the corporal punishment. The reason was because he was so naive and weak-willed even as a high school senior. Seung-woo, very naturally, changed to ‘cotton trousers he used to wear during punishment’ and knelt down in the living room. The punishment started at 10 at night and continued until 8 in the morning the next day. Holding a golf club in her two hands, mother spanked down Seung-woo vertically. Seung-woo was spanked at 1, 4, 6 o’clock in the early morning, 40 times each time, 120 times as a whole. Left hip side of the cotton trousers was torn a little. His skin also fell off and blood smeared out tainting the golf club.

After such a long beating, mother fell a sleep in the morning. But, Seung-woo could not fall a sleep. At 11 in the morning, he entered her mother’s bedroom with a kitchen knife in his hand. According to the police, Seung-woo stabbed his mother who was sleeping near the door on her face. Awakened by a sudden incident, she said, grabbing his head, “why are you doing this? This is not right.” “You don’t know. Tomorrow, you may kill me.” While strangling her, he stabbed her neck again. Confirming her mother’s death, he closed the door, leaving the knife behind. After a week, he opened the door to pull out some blankets. She was still on the blood-drenched blanket. He grabbed some blankets from the closet and got out of the room. He saw his mother. It was not scary; rather it was plain, he testified. The next day, he washed his bloody clothes.

His mother wanted good grades all the time. Seung-woo followed her directions and the results were not bad. He scored over 900 in TOEIC when he was 6th grade in elementary school. When he advanced to middle school, he was top 1~2 in his class. Things changed when he was middle school senior. Scores started to drop a lot. Seung-woo got scared. He rigged the score card. Circumstances got worse; his mother figured it out. Seung-woo recollected that time as he was ‘beaten to death’.

At high school, his scores from national mock tests fluctuated a lot. At the first test, he was in top 4,000. In the next test, he was in top 20,000. He was afraid of his mother. Seung-woo had to rig the score card again and again. Top 2,500, 1,500, 700, 500, 250, 67, 62. He showed her ever-improving score card to his mother. Her expectation grew higher. “My Seung-woo can be the national top if he wish.” Seung-woo’s fear reached the pinnacle. Mar. 20, the day Seung-woo killed his mother, was just two days before parents’ general assembly at his school. He was afraid that his mother would find out his actual score during an interview with his teacher. It was Seung-woo’s fear that brought about the murder.


The picture Ha’s mother was laughing was cracked by a toy gunshot. ⓒ SisaIN Yoon Moo-young 윤무영

Seung-woo was not beat by his mother from the start. It became habitual only about 5 years ago. That was about the time she and his father were separated. From early this year when father formally demanded divorce to her, the punishment got intensified further. Seung-woo’s father Ha (fake id, 52) was an existence far from Seung-woo. He ran away from home just when Seung-woo was 1 year old baby and lived separately for about half a year. He ran away even after that time to time. Seung-woo’s aunt (41) said “my sister (Ms. Park) must have been obsessed to her son and his score more as things were like that.”

All family members cut ties to relatives

Seung-woo’s mother Park lost her mother at her early age. Park, at the age of 15, took care of all three brothers and sisters, including the youngest 5-year-old one. Park’s father cherished only the two boys. Seung-woo’s youngest aunt said “my sister was very stubborn. She finished the 4-year-course university in Seoul and studied in Japan after that all by herself. But it must have been quite lonesome accordingly.” Sometimes, when she quarreled with Seung-woo’s father, she was known to have hard times to control her temper banging her head against the walls.

Park cut her ties to her parents ans siblings just after Seung-woo was born. Seung-woo’s father also cut communications to his relatives when Seung-woo was about 4. The three were, in their relatives or even in the same family, completely left to themselves. Even mother and father started to live separately when Seung-woo became middle school student. Even in Chooseok or lunar New Year’s day (the biggest two traditional holidays in Korea), Seung-woo used to stayed at home only with his mother.

Mother Park did not seem to do any external activity at all. Between Mar.20 when the accident had taken place and Nov.18 when father reported as a missing person, no one was curious about her whereabouts or suspicious about her disappearance. Park, starting from Bucheon, Gyeonggi-do, where Seung-woo had been born, moved many places such as Cheongnyangni, Jamsil, Shillim-dong, Dunchon-dong, Gooui-dong Seoul without any particular reasons. Because of this, when Seung-woo said “mother ran away”, people took it without any suspicion. Seung-woo’s father said his wife would not settle in a place for a long time since she did not want to make connections with strangers.

To Park who was cut from outside was left only Seung-woo. Since Seung-woo knew this thing very well, he wouldn’t resist her. When aunt who saw Seung-woo at the Police station asked “why didn’t you rather run away?”, Seung-woo answered “I didn’t have anywhere to go.” Last June, 3 months after he killed his mother, he was hit hard by a car while riding a bicycle. The hospital needed a legal guardian for treatment. Seung-woo declined to provide information saying “Mom would not get the phone call and Dad will be useless as well.” Finally, hospital was able to communicate with his father and the two met at the hospital. It was two years since they had been split.


Inside home Ha used to spend 8 months since the incident. Looking at the picture of home interior, Pyo Chang-won, a Police Academy criminal psychology professor, said “he seems to have lost interest in life itself”. ⓒ SisaIN Yoon Moo-young 윤무영

Seung-woo did not go to school for two days after murdering his mother. In Apr., he skipped school over 15 days. When he went to school after a while, he talked to his class teacher “we decided to live separately from my mom. I have concerns about my grades and girl friend.” Starting from about 3 weeks since his mother was left in the bedroom, a stench of rotten dead body sneaked out of the chinks in the bedroom door. He applied industrial glues he bought from a stationery store to the chinks in the door. One neighbor said “Seung-woo’s friends came to Seung-woo’s home and played computer games or listened to music all the time. We did not notice any strange things.” Seung-woo, with his dead mother left in the bedroom, had fun with his friends in the living room next to it playing computer games or having ramens together or playing pianos. In the mean time, he had two girl friends, which would have been “beyond his dreams if his mom was alive.”

Seung-woo stuck to his girl friends much. In a letter to his girl friend last May, he wrote “I practice dagger throwing these days. If someone touches my girl fried, I will hit him with 3 hand knives and 5 throwing knives to his belly.” When he had quarrels with his girl friend, he sent a text message “I will die in front of you if you would not see me.”

Police “mentally competent”

Seung-woo was also a ‘weapons mania’. After he committed the murder, he collected all kinds of weapons such as bows, Japanese swords, survival guns, baseball bats, hand knives, throwing knives, daggers, toy guns using the living expense fund, worth about 1.5M KRW, his father transferred to his mother’s bank account every month. In particular, he enjoyed ‘dart game’ using throwing knives and daggers. On the door that became a dart board was a human silhouette drawn with a sign pen. He visited gun selling websites quite often. He posted questions about restocking ‘power spring for an electrically powered handgun’. Police academy professor Pyo Chang-won (criminal psychology) said “those whose masculinity was damaged by someone else has tendency to get attached to weaponry.” In fact, people who lack confidence often soothe themselves by possessing weapons.

Around 11:30 in the evening on Nov. 22, just before her mother’s dead body would be found, father called 119 emergency squad feeling suspicious of Seung-woo’s fierce resistance to opening home door to him. Police came along. Seung-woo started to shake like aspen leaves. Father asked “Is mother in there?” Seung-woo nodded. Seung-woo, collapsed on the electric mattress in the living room, held his father’s hand covering himself with a blanket. He was almost out of his mind already. “Dad, you would not dump me no matter what, right?” Seung-woo’s voice trembled loudly.

Police sent the case to the prosecution on Dec.1. The policeman who interrogated Seung-woo said “profiling result tells us that he does not have any particular mental problems. He seemed to commit the murder accidentally under an extreme duress that his rigged scores would be exposed to his mother when she visited school.”

At the first interview with his father, Seung-woo said “I did not believe in my dad. I was afraid he would dump me too.” To Seung-woo, his mother was not only a subject of abhorrence that beat him time to time but also the only family that had any affectionate relation with him. Seung-woo said, during the eight months that he lived with his mother’s dead body, he saw his mother everyday in his dreams. Seung-woo belatedly said “I regret it. I thought about suicide sometime but lived brazenly.” Now are families other than mother next to Seung-woo. Father, uncle, aunts, school teachers and friends who worry about Seung-woo, and even neighbors. But, it’s already late. During the time when an eighteen year old boy became a murderer, there was no one who held his hands in the world.

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