City struggles with tragedy
The altar of the memorial is a wall of white and yellow flowers and greens, surrounding photos of 47 students and teachers whose bodies have been identified after being recovered from the ferry Sewol. There is room for many, many more pictures.
The temporary memorial opened Wednesday in Ansan, the city south of Seoul that has taken the brunt of the pain from the ferry sinking last week that left 302 people dead or missing.
At the site, in the auditorium of the Olympic Memorial Museum, visitors walked past a line of wreaths sent from across the country and placed white chrysanthemums on the altar.
A big screen on the left of the altar showed pictures of students, one face after another, all in school uniforms, while another screen on the right showed a stream of text messages from the public expressing condolences.
Danwon High School's junior class was aboard the ferry from Incheon port to the southern tourist island of Jeju. About 250 of the students are dead or missing.
"They are the same age as my grandchildren," said 73-year-old Bae So-ja as she wiped tears from her eyes with a handkerchief. She was one of the first to pay condolences at the memorial.
Visitors to the memorial received black fabric patches bearing the Chinese character for "condolence" to pin on the left side of their chests.
They bowed in silence and a few people bowed down formally, lowering their heads and bodies to the floor.
A woman wailed as she brought a flower to the altar; though hundreds of other people were at the memorial, the only other sound was solemn piano music.
By noon, the line of mourners stretched to the street, many of them in black suits and black dresses.
"This was the only thing I could do for the students," said Lee Ae-ri, who lives in another city about a half-hour drive away.
"I can't stay long inside because I feel like tearing up."
A few blocks from the memorial, the high school was quiet.
Classes normally would have begun by now, but only a few students were there Wednesday. They were invited to visit counselors and psychiatrists there to discuss their grief.
Notes and messages to missing teachers and students are posted on walls, stairs, doors and windows. Some left cookies, soda cans and bread on window panes. Inside a classroom, a few bouquets of white flowers were placed on empty desks.
"Our Jung-hoon is a nice kid," read one message, left on a door.
"Please. Save him. If he won't come back, please send him to a good place."
Lee Seung-min, an 18-year-old senior, said students are "constantly watching the news and crying, and going back and forth from the school, placing chrysanthemums and crying, and unable to do anything."
Seniors' classes will begin Thursday, and younger grades next week, including the 13 juniors who did not go on the ferry. It's not clear when the 75 students who survived will return; most remain hospitalized, many for mental stress.
Classes during the first two days will focus on helping students cope with losses and trauma, with assistance from psychiatrists and professional counselors, said An Soon-uk, a supervisor at Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education.
The school has turned some of the classrooms into a medical center so students will be able to seek help during classes.
"Many of them are feeling guilt and resentment. Some students are in a blank state, unable to express any feelings," said Hong Hyun-ju, a psychiatrist who is one of some 50 medical professionals from outside the high school giving psychological treatment and counseling to students, teachers and parents.
Three teachers were rescued from the boat. One, a vice principal, died in an apparent suicide, saying he felt guilty for being alive when hundreds remained missing.
Reminders of the disaster will be hard to avoid for some time. An said funerals are held every morning, and funeral processions continue all the way to the student's classroom, led by a relative holding the student's picture. Sometimes, he said, parents faint when they enter the room.