A mother's grief: 'My daughter's in the water'

Ferry tragedy: Mother haunted by decision

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Story highlights

  • Kim convinced her daughter to make the trip
  • "All of this happened because of me," she says
  • Parents are holding vigil in a harbor
  • Many are angry that officials aren't doing enough

Through the unrelenting rain, with the biting winds whipping against her tear-stained face, Christine Kim stands on the cold, gray harbor.

"Inside that water," she says, pointing to the choppy waves on the Yellow Sea, "there are children whom I teach and my own child."

Kim is an English teacher at a private tutoring center. Some of her students were aboard the Sewol headed to the resort island of Jeju when the passenger ferry listed and sank.

Twenty people were confirmed dead, and 276 were still missing early Friday, according to the South Korean Ministry of Security and Public Administration. One of them is Kim's youngest daughter.

"My daughter's in the water," Kim said, her voice breaking.

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When the school trip came up at the Anson Daewon High School, her daughter, Billy, was initially reluctant. The family had taken a visit to Jeju less than two months earlier. She didn't want to go on a four-day trip.

"I don't want to go there because I went there one time," her daughter told her.

Kim convinced her otherwise.

"I think this travel would be a great experience for your school days," she recalls telling her.

So, Tuesday night, Billy boarded the ferry.

The next morning, shortly before 9 a.m., students heard a loud bang and the ship began to list.

Some jumped into the frigid water and were rescued. Others have not been heard from.

"All of this," Kim laments, "happened because of me."


Throughout the night Wednesday and into Thursday, family members have camped out at the Paeng Mok Harbor, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from where the ship capsized.

They sit on plastic chairs, huddled together for warmth with blankets on their shoulders. They're handed coffee cups and instant noodles as they stand vigil. Mothers and grandmothers cry and console each other.

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One elderly man sits on a chair -- his cell phone in his hands, his hands clasped together as if in prayer.

All of them waiting for answers, hoping for a sign.

"It's been almost 30 hours," Kim says. "I can't sleep because my daughter's in the water, in the cold, cold water -- I can never sleep."


After the accident, local media lit up with reports of text messages they said were from passengers. In one, a passenger describes women screaming in the darkness. In another, a father learns his child is trapped. In a third, a son, fearing death, tells his mother he loves her.

They haven't been authenticated. But they are reason enough for some parents to believe more survivors will be found.

The parents here are angry that officials aren't taking the messages seriously.

"We're getting texts from our children from the boat, but they don't believe us," Kim said.

Kim isn't alone in pointing the finger at the South Korean government. It has failed to expend all necessary efforts to rescue the students, she says.

Rescue officials say they are at the mercy of the elements. It's drizzling, making for poor visibility. The water currents are powerful, making for dangerous operations.

Three divers who took it upon themselves to go look for the missing were momentarily swept away by the tide Thursday. A fishing boat eventually picked them up.

The massive rescue efforts has included 169 boats, 29 planes and 512 divers. Crews will next bring in cranes to stabilize the ship.

"The families must be so heartbroken, I know it's hard," South Korean president Park Geun-hye said after touring the accident site Thursday.

"Please," she told rescuers, "I urge you, do your best."

Chang Min, whose second-grade son is among the missing, says he's willing to trust the government "one last time.
But Kim is critical.

"The government is doing nothing for us, as our children are drowning," she says.


The despondent mother breaks into a smile when she talks about how Billy came to pick such a typically American boy's name for herself.

She loved goats when she was little. So she decided to call herself one.

Billy promised her mom she would bring back some delicious snacks from Jeju.

She waits for her daughter.

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