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'Teacher, please rest in peace': Students remember vice principal who took own life after ferry sinking

By Madison Park and Stella Kim, CNN
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Danwon High School students and members of the public held a vigil for the missing ferry passengers on Sunday.
Danwon High School students and members of the public held a vigil for the missing ferry passengers on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kang Min Kyu, 52, was vice principal at Danwon High School
  • Initially rescued from the sinking ferry, he was found dead two days later
  • In a suicide note, he expressed regret he survived while others died

Ansan, South Korea (CNN) -- Kang Min Kyu, 52, taught ethics.

Kang, who was vice principal at Ansan's Danwon High School, was rescued from the sinking Sewol ferry.

Just two days after the accident, he was found dead after apparently hanging himself using a belt from a tree in the city of Jindo. In a note, he expressed regret he had survived while so many others had died.

On a chilly Monday, around 4:30 a.m., Kang's coffin was led out of a funeral hall in a long, black hearse. It was too early for any sunlight.

There were no pallbearers carrying the coffin -- only a quick walking procession of his family members and what appeared to be about a hundred others dressed in black following the car through the parking lot.

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No one spoke.

His family members -- one son, two daughters and his wife dressed in all-black traditional Korean wear followed the hearse. When they reached the end of the parking lot of the funeral home, they got into the car. The whole walk took less than five minutes before the mourners got in and drove in a line of cars headed to the crematorium.

Kang's body had been found Friday in one of the small mountains near the Jindo Gymnasium where bereaved families are taking shelter, according to local police. He had gone to Jindo with the school in an effort to support families, said one fellow educator.

"As the one in charge of the safety of the students, he was suffering from guilty feelings," another teacher had told Korean media. When some familes directed their anger at him, he became "brokenhearted."

Over 300 students from the school and their teachers were aboard the ferry. Some are confirmed dead and and hope is dwindling that any more survivors will be found. 174 were rescued. Hundreds remain missing.

Police have confirmed the contents of a note, which Kang left behind.

He wrote that it was his idea for the field trip and that the deaths of the students were his fault. He said he could not live not knowing where his students are.

He also wrote that he wonders whether he could still be their teacher on the other side, in death.

Families protest over rescue operation

The note also expressed a request to be cremated and his ashes scattered where the Sewol had sank.

In Korean funerals, there are no ceremonies or eulogies -- they are a quiet, private affair.

People who wish to say farewell visit a funeral room and pay their respects to the deceased one's family. The family members receive guests for about three days.

During this period, several students from the high school came to the funeral home to pay their respects to Kang's family. Dressed in their school uniforms, they bowed to the family.

Outside the funeral hall, some of them spoke about Kang.

"He was an ethics teacher," said freshman Choi Yoo Jung. "I wonder if that's why it was hard for him. He was such a good person. He really liked students a lot."

Another student, Kim Hyun Soo, also a freshman, said she felt it was too harsh for Kang to be blamed for what happened on the ferry.

"The vice principal really liked students," she said. "It seems like he was really hard on himself. I don't think anyone should be blaming him."

His death elicited sorry and sympathy across South Korea. Messages of sympathy and grief have been outpouring on social media.

"Teacher Kang Min Kyu, please rest in peace. Praying for the soul of the departed," tweeted @minifi_0309.

"We are so sorry..." tweeted Kim Min Hyuk, a senior at the high school, who tweeted the name of the vice principal along with the names of other dead teachers from the ferry tragedy.

Judging from the volume of flowers sent to his funeral room -- from ROTC, his high school classmates, his previous schools where he taught -- it appeared the educator for over 20 years was a well-respected one.

The day before the funeral procession, his family declined to be interviewed.

The hearse carrying his coffin traveled a few miles east and pulled into Danwon High School, circling the campus for one last time -- signifying Kang's last visit to his school.

Read: For families, suicide risk is a concern

Read: Wracked by guilt, full of gratitude

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