Mother – Stephannie White
Interviewer – Joe McPherson
Interviewer #2 – Jennifer Young
* * * * * * *
Interviewer - And now, a special Seoul Podcast.
Welcome to a special edition of the Seoul Podcast.
We are breaking away from our usual format because we felt this is a special incident that needs singular attention. On Saturday May 10th Michael White and his mother Stephannie were with friends spending a day in a sauna near Daegu. Michael was the only man in the group so he had to bathe separately from the others. A good while later Stephannie was told by the sauna staff that he had to go to the hospital – she had to go. What she saw next was any mother’s nightmare. Michael was in an ambulance, unconscious. He was found floating in one of the pools, and he died shortly thereafter.
Big suspicious questions have surrounded his death, like: why did staff wait almost an hour to notify Michael’s mother that there was trouble? Why did they call the hospital and say that he was already dead, when he wasn’t? And why, in an active bathing room before a major holiday did no-one help him?
Tonight we have Michael’s mother Stephannie White. Thank you for joining us.
Mother - Thank you for having me.
Interviewer - This has to be so difficult.
Mother - Actually the hardest part is over, because the worst thing that could have ever happened to me has already happened. So, you know, it’s not as bad as it was a week or so ago.
Interviewer #2 - But I think the specifics of the situation or the way things happen in Korea compounded the situation; or that’s my opinion.
Mother - Ah, definitely there are some huge differences in how things are handled in an emergency situation. I can definitely agree with that.
I did get some more information from the police yesterday. I can fill out that timeline a little bit more.
One of the newspapers said – I can’t remember which one – that a staff worker saw him but thought that he was bathing, and what part of floating face down resembles ‘bathing’ I don’t know. But they left him alone and came back later and saw that he was still in that condition and that is the point at which they decided to help him. So as near as I can piece together from the crumbs of information the police will give me, the staff worker saw him at 11.02. Eighteen minutes later, at 11.20, is when the staff member saw him again and attempted to pull him from the water and resuscitate him on his own.
Now we don’t have absolute confirmation that anyone at the sauna was attempting to resuscitate him but that is the impression I was left with by the police. Now whether that was… I don’t know what to make of that situation.
Interviewer - How crowded was it that day?
Mother - It was very crowded. In the women’s side… My friend and I, we are both adults and her daughter (eleven Korean age) were foreigners so we stand out quite a bit, and (we) live in a fish-bowl, so, we enjoy going to the sauna for the relaxation in the salt pools, but at the same time we know everyone in there is watching us. We prefer to kind-of-like scrub down by ourselves, and it was impossible to find a shallow row that was unoccupied by Korean customers.
Interviewer - That’s really crowded.
Interviewer #2 My question was - because I know you don’t live in a city – how many white people were there? How difficult it would have been to find the white mother of the white boy?
Mother - There were two white women…
Interviewer #2 - You and your friend?
Mother - Yeah.
Interviewer #2 - Just you two?
Mother - Just us two and her daughter. Her daughter is not necessarily white, but she is foreign, and so two foreign women and a foreign child…
And my son he’s 6 foot tall.
Interviewer - He looks really big.
Mother - Yeah. Even back home he towered over all his peer group. So he’s always just been the gentle giant. He’s never been, you know, a fighter in any sense of the word. He couldn’t even do Taekwondo. I mean he could do it but he just didn’t get into the sparring part of things. He didn’t like that part. And so he dropped out of Taekwondo because he didn’t like to have to do the sparring part. So he’s really just a gentle person. He’s just big.
Interviewer - He certainly would have stood out in that crowd because of his height.
Mother - Yes and he’s very pale. He’s not tanned. I don’t tan very easily. He does have black hair, which, you know, can help him blend in a little bit but not as much as myself and my friend who are both sandy blonde.
Interviewer - I assume he had no health problems previously.
Mother - Not diabetic, no health problems. I’m in the process of getting his medical records from his birth hospital now. There’s just so much red tape everywhere because I’m not in the country to request the medical records myself. Having to sign proxies, send it to a friend, it’s just a big mess. I have a congenital heart defect. And so, because of my heart defect, when Michael was born, they did an ultra-sound and he has no congenital heart defect, he’s had no heart problems throughout his life. His only medical problem is to be allergic to bee stings for which I became epinephrine certified in case I ever had to give him a shot for anaphylactic shock.
Interviewer - Right. Now this is what I found a little screwy that the police can’t do investigations looking for evidence. Am I right there?
Mother - I don’t know about looking for evidence but what they told me is, on two separate occasions, this was last Tuesday after Mike’s autopsy, I went into the police station to give my official statement. Because at the hospital they did want to take my statement but I was in no condition to talk to anyone. It took me a couple of days before I was even able to speak.
But anyway, back to the subject. So last Tuesday and yesterday morning, on those occasions they told me that they are not allowed to go out and just do these mass, you know, searches for witnesses. They didn’t say anything about evidence. They said they weren’t allowed to question witnesses. The witnesses had to come in voluntarily to provide information.
And yesterday, what I was told was that they are primarily looking at this as a murder investigation. There’s no idea whatsoever to support the idea of an accident.
But because they don’t have any witnesses, they cannot press charges against anyone for murder.
Interviewer - Really?
Mother - Yes. And that was repeated several times back and forth with the translator to verify. And I spoke to Banji Sok (sp), she’s a reporter for the Seoul Times, this morning and she was surprised by that as well. She said that she was going to be interviewing the police and asking them why they told me such a thing. Because in her investigative experience, she didn’t think that sounded right. And my experience in Korea, often if a Korean doesn’t want to do something for you, they just don’t want to take the time to explain something. They will often just say it’s not possible. To end the discussion. To basically shut you up and go away.
So, the police were very emphatic that they were not hiding anything and they were not involved in any type of corruption. Now I’ve never accused them of that so I don’t know why they would be so defensive about that. But they seemed to think that that was my primary concern. When I only went yesterday to turn in the police statement from my friend Korina. Be cause she was…we needed to get her testimony as well as a witness. And she lives in Channon so she had to wait ‘til the weekend to come down, she works for a hagwon.
So she came down, but the police didn’t want to make an appointment on Saturday.
Interviewer - *Groans*
Mother - Well, you know, they have a day off too.
Interviewer #2 - The entire police force?
Mother - Apparently. So, what we had to do was we had to basically have her type it out, have it translated and then do the thumb prints on all the pages like the police like to do.
And then bring it to the police station. So my primary reason for going to the police station yesterday was to turn in her statement and ask about, you know, to ask about his official time of death. They were not able to answer that question but again went on this tirade about how they’re not trying to hide anything, they, you know, they’re blah blah blah.
And, I kept asking the translator to explain to them that I’m not accusing them. I need them on my side. I don’t want to make them (inaudible) me. They’re the only ones that can get to the bottom of this thing. And I kept trying to emphasize: I’m not there to criticize, I’m not there to cause problems, I’m just turning in this paperwork and was asking if there’s an update. You know, that’s all.
That was kind of intense but they repeated several times, it’s first a murder investigation and secondary as an accident but they had no evidence to support an accident.
Interviewer - But do they have any evidence that there’s any foul play?
Mother - Exactly. See, that’s what they wouldn’t declare about. Because they did…it was explained to me that under Korean law, if a murder takes place, there’s nothing they can do about it unless there’s a witness. So I don’t know if that means they have a suspect in mind. Or they don’t have a witness to be able to press charges. Or if it looks like a murder but they don’t have a suspect or don’t have a witness to lead them to a suspect. See, that part’s unclear.
Interviewer - That’s weird. So I mean if you want to get someone for murder he has to do it in public in front of people?
Mother - You have to have at least one witness saying that they saw something.
Interviewer #2 - They don’t have forensic evidence?
Interviewer - That’s what I was wondering. That’s witness.
Mother - Well, one problem…well, we come from societies that have a very legalistic tradition. So to us, forensic evidence, you know, it’s ironclad. DNA does not lie.
But the situation with Mike is, he was in a sauna, and so, it’s a water environment. And, whether or not forensic evidence was collected, like water from the pool to compare with water from his lungs. I mean, you know, to them, that just seems like, you know, Hollywood.
And so, on the one hand, I want to be angry and critical with the police because it doesn’t seem from my perspective, that they are doing these things. But at the same time, because it’s an investigation, they’re not allowed to tell me what they have done. And so, I just have to trust that they know what they’re doing. And that’s very hard to do. It’s a very hard thing to do.
Now, they did update me on a few things like the timeline. They did update me on the fact that they did check the ambulance that Mike was in. And they said the ambulance was equipped with a defibrillator and it was equipped with an oxygen tank. Now, it was equipped when they checked it.
Whether or not it was equipped on Saturday night, May 10th, is a whole other story.
Interviewer - And were any of those in working order? That’s another thing.
Mother: I don’t know if they checked that part of it. But the point is, they didn’t utilize the tools. So if the tools were there, why didn’t they use them?
Interviewer #2 - And the fact that they were there doesn’t matter at all if they chose not to use them.
Mother - Exactly. Exactly. So, you know, there’s a lot of unanswered questions. But as near as I’ve been told, Mike was first discovered at eleven oh two. So, eleven twenty is when the staff attempts to do something of some type. I don’t know if that means CPR or if they just tried to get him out of the tub and pat him on the back. I don’t know what they mean by that. But they called the medical emergency service at eleven twenty eight. The ambulance arrived at eleven thirty four.
They didn’t contact me in the women’s sauna until eleven forty five. It took me two minutes to go from the sauna room to my locker and find my cell phone. Because the way it was told to me, I thought he just needed to go to the hospital for stitches or something.
Because he is a boy. And he’s had stitches in his foot from stepping on glass. He’s had stitches on his hand for cutting himself with a knife. So, I mean boys get broken bones and stitches. So, I called his cell phone at eleven forty seven and there was no answer.
And there was no answer. At that point I threw my clothes on and we rushed out. No rinsing, nothing, as is. And we got out there and one ambulance guy was doing chest compressions but they were not giving him oxygen. So Korina and I sat at his head and I began to adjust him to begin to give him breath. And the other ambulance driver, the other ambulance worker stopped me from doing that, he said, “No, no, no, no.”
And so I stopped because I felt perhaps there’s something I don’t know. You know, is there a neck injury, is there something I don’t know? So I stopped and didn’t do anything at that point.
And I noticed that Mike was foaming at the mouth with blood. This is the point where’s there’s two things that happened, one, whoever was doing chest compressions didn’t know what the *beep* they were doing and the sternum broke, you know, that little piece there?
Interviewer - Yeah, that’s what they told us in CPR class years ago.
Mother - Exactly. So, you know, that broke. Or, there’s something else involved because later at the autopsy we found that there was damage to the back of his mouth, his throat and his lungs from wrenching and coughing, which can also produce blood. But the amount of blood that was taken out of his lungs at the hospital, you know, they did a slow suction, through his mouth? Takes way too long.
They really needed to do the, I forget what it’s called, but they basically puncture the lung from between the fourth and fifth ribs and insert a tube in another puncture and this allows the lungs to drain out very quickly so that you can give oxygen. It’s like a tracheotomy on your side rather than at your throat.
Mother - And they did the [unclear] and I was begging them to do this in the ER and they kept saying they wanted to take an x-ray first. Well, the x-ray is kind of a moot point at this point. They…well anyway…I’m getting the time schedule all messed up. I know that’s what you…(inaudible)
Interviewer - …I know it’s really blurry right now.
Mother - I mean, so, eleven thirty four the ambulance arrives and they’re dealing with Mike and eleven forty five I’m told, eleven forty seven I call Mike, rush out. We’re at the ambulance just as quick as we can be. We arrive at the ER at eleven fifty seven.
Now…when I…from eleven fifty seven onward, I’m quoting the time from the ER clock because that’s what we’re trained to do in CPR and first aid. You use the clock on location. You don’t use, like your personal watch or something like that.
So the clock at the ER said eleven fifty seven, that’s when we arrived in the room. They inserted the shunt and gave him oxygen. And the doctor was doing CPR chest compressions. The doctor did CPR until twelve eighteen. They did not use a defibrillator. I was begging them to; telling them that they needed to do that. But they basically ignored me and wanted me to leave the room.
Now, I refused to leave the room because I knew as soon as I did they’d stop doing anything. I just sensed it. But I didn’t get in their way. I stood at the foot of the bed and basically rubbed Mike’s feet. Now at this time, his colour’s not too bad. His lips are blue, an indication he’s not being given the oxygen he needs. But his fingers, his fingertips underneath the fingernail, are not blue. This is a really good indication that he’s revivable with a majority of brain function. And that’s critical. Because if I’m willing to accept him with a majority of brain function, that’s my fucking decision. You know, and so, that’s what I wanted. I wanted him back.
And, uhm…the doctor quit doing CPR at elev...at twelve eighteen. That’s when I took over. And my friend Korina, she and I took turns as we, one would get tired, the other would take over. And we did this from twelve eighteen until one thirty four in the morning.
Mother - We did chest compressions. Because we were waiting, we were watching the oxygen that was going in. One lung had been cleared. You have four sacs, four large sacs in your lungs. One had pretty much been cleared and the rate of oxygen was enough to sustain brain function. It was staying above 90, which is critical. So that’s kind of the line, that you see on TV, they have the little lines, the flat line and the heart line? OK, the one for oxygen needs to remain above 90. As long as you’ve got that, you’ve got enough oxygen for brain function.
At that point, it’s a matter of draining the lungs so that the lungs can breathe on their own and restart the heart. They…*resigned sounding laugh* waited until twelve thirty eight to do the x-ray. They didn’t want to drain his lungs until they did the x-ray. They waited until twelve thirty eight to do the x-ray. It was close to one o’clock in the morning before they brought the x-ray back and showed that, yes, one lung was clear.
And I simply said, “Why aren’t you draining the other lungs?!”
And I went back to CPR. And I refuse… every time the oxygen guy started to walk away, I basically bullied him into coming back and to keeping up his job of maintaining. Because what his job was to do, was to slowly suction off the blood as it came up. Because as the air’s being forced into Mike’s lungs, blood is being forced out through an auxiliary shunt tube.
His job is to suction that away so it doesn’t go back down into the lungs. It’s a very slow, slow method of draining someone’s lungs.
Interviewer - Wow.
Interviewer #2 - And did they ever give a reason as to why they chose to use such a slow method?
Mother - The emergency room nurse, upon entry, right before the doctor decided he was going to give up, she turned to…uh...in the ambulance, we…I passed my phone off to the driver. He called a Korean co-worker to come and be there. And basically the, without doing a brain scan, they determined that he was already brain dead and that it was pointless.
And this was at twelve, maybe ten [i.e. maybe 12:10]. So, without a brain scan, they had already determined that he was brain dead.
And that…I mean, I looked in his eyes myself. And when I opened his eyes, the lights are very bright in the ER, there was the slightest ever bit of dilation. And his eyes were looking straight ahead. These are good signs. These are good signs for hope and there’s possibility.
Mother - And, you know, if I’m willing to take him back like that, then who the hell are they to make the decision that I can’t have him back? And we kept asking, “Is it a problem with insurance?” You know, it’s like “Here’s my credit card.” You know, and they were like "No, no, no, that’s not a problem."
They just simply…didn’t want to take extraordinary measures. And, what we were told by the ambulance drivers was that they apologized because they were told that Mike was DOA. And so when they arrived they found that he was not DOA.
And, so now it’s a matter of, the hospital says that the sauna said that it was DOA so they kind of had it in their mind it was DO...it was hopeless and I was just a freaked out mom who wasn’t ready to give up. Well, that’s true. I was pretty freaked out and I wasn’t ready to give up. But at the same time, you know…
Interviewer - They’re medical professionals. They shouldn’t take the word of sauna employees.
Mother - Exactly! What medical authority do these people have to declare him dead on arrival?
And the police had already filled out the form listing eleven twenty as the time of death, when the police didn’t even get to the hospital until twelve fifty! So the whole, eleven twenty DOA time was phone consultation between the sauna and the emergency medical people for the ambulance service. And the police somehow, somehow they’re in the triangle of phone calls being made. And they haven’t really made that part clear to me.
Yeah, and on top of it, the sauna and some of the flamers out there on the blogs are trying to say that this is my fault because I let my 14 year-old son go into the men’s sauna by himself. Well, this is not our first time to a sauna and he’s certainly old enough to know not to run on slippery tile, not to horse-play, not to, to do things.
Interviewer - Mike was not a childish child. He was very mature and certainly, capable of taking care of himself in a sauna.
Mother - As long as he wasn’t ganged up on.
Interviewer - Well, yeah, in reasonable circumstances.
Interviewer #2 - I was going to say, he was hardly by himself.
Mother - Exactly. Because if there are typically, when, you know, because I’ve been to saunas plenty of times and so, uh…someone’s trying to get in on my sign. I don’t know what they’re saying…
Interviewer - OK, do you want to pause for a while?
Mother - No, we’re fine. I…I love the saunas. I enjoy them, just soaking in the salt waters and things, so I go as often as I can. And I’ve noticed on days when it’s women with no children, there may or may not be men. But when there’s women with children, there’s almost invariably husbands and fathers and sons on the others side. And that’s why Michael likes to go when it’s busy. Because he meets other teen-aged boys.
He said that there’s like, some kind of game that they play with the…with the small washing bucket. You skip it like a stone on the water and…it splashes people and so it’ like a splashing game they play. And, you know, it’s just…
Interviewer - …teen-aged boys.
Mother - Teen-aged boys. They’re not…you know, that’s one thing that I was really concerned about when he first told me about this game, that this is something he did back in Chonnan in a sauna we would go to.
And he said, “Nobody’s running, Mom, nobody’s running,” *laughs.* And, it’s something that’s done in the cold pool.
Mother - I guess, kind of standing around or something. From what I can tell, it’s a cross between Marco Polo and a splashing game. So, I don’t, I don’t know.
But um…that’s why he wanted to go. He wanted to go because he knew it would be busy. And, I really didn’t want him to go. I wanted him to stay home and do dishes. And I, if I had one regret with Mike, it’s that I truly regret that I didn’t make him stay home and do dishes that night. ‘Cause, it was his turn.
Interviewer - Now, um, I was wondering why, why did you need a lawyer then?
Mother - Well, the police were telling me, that if I wanted evidence gathered, I had, I want the emergency phone call recording to be released, if I want the medical records to be released, I had to hire a lawyer to get this stuff released to get to them [the police].
Interviewer - *incredulous laugh*
Mother - Yeah.
Interviewer - And so, if someone can’t afford a lawyer, they’re just out of luck?
Mother - Apparently so. Apparently so.
Interviewer: That’s one of those things. Well. Goodness. Well, you went to a, everything’s that’s been happening since then, ‘cause Jennifer told me about a week ago and since then I was trying to put it up on my sites as much as I could. And I was glad to see that the vigils were coming around. Did they, I mean how did they turn, I know about the Seoul vigil, how did the Daegu vigil turn out?
Mother - We had more people come to the Daegu vigil than we had at the Seoul, which was good.
When we first arrived, there was a group of men across the street at the sauna. When I made arrangements with the police, I told them that I would be across the street from the sauna. That we would not picket, we would not shout, we would not prevent patrons from coming or going from the sauna.
Across the street from the sauna is a park, and so that kind of works well for us. We arrived at the park and began to set up and we noticed on the corner, the sauna’s located on a corner, there was a group of men and they were very intently watching what we were doing. So it seemed like they were very much prepared for us to be there.
They didn’t accost us. They didn’t bother us in any way. But, after a few minutes of us setting up, you know, basically a table, some you know, photographs of Mike, had a sandwich board out, there were some flyers. And, you know, there was some people helping with this…there was…maybe eight to ten people at the set-up point.
And, the men across the street who were intently watching us, there were four men in suits and the rest were like in pullovers and slacks and things. More working Joe type guys. The suits left and the working Joes kind of scattered in the periphery.
Some were in the park behind us, some kind of went down the street some, some were remaining on the corners, some sat on the steps of the sauna. And they basically, just kind of like neighbourhood watch or something. And just watched us. Smoked cigarettes and watched us. And that was kind of weird.
The police told me when I went to get permission for this, that they would have a, a car there with a couple of officers to legitimize our presence as well as act as protection, should the people try to give us a hard time. That did not happen. The police did not come.
Mother - That did not happen. The police did not come.
Interviewer - Was it on a Saturday? No...
Mother - Sunday. It was on Sunday. So maybe they were still taking their breaks...still on breaks. So they didn't...and I don't know where the ball was dropped with that...but we spoke to the director of the department who handles civic gatherings. And what they told me was that...because...I didn't have to get a formal permit because it was a memorial. As long as we're there for silent prayer, memory of Mike, we don't have to fill a form, we don't even have to give a notice and...but we cannot picket, we cannot shout, we cannot wave posters or anything like that.
Interviewer - Right.
Mother - Which of course we didn't do. And several families when they came out...they saw the sandwich board and realized that this was a memorial-type situation, and they came over, and they were asking questions about what happened. And so there were at least one family that I know of who were going to the sauna, and they were cutting through the park, passed us, stopped, asked questions, took information, took flyers, and went back home. So we didn't prevent them from coming in. They just...they had to pass by us to cross the street to get to the sauna and just never made it that far.
After we'd been there may be about an hour, an hour and a half, the manager of the sauna came out, and he tried to bring me a bag of some sort. It was just like a black market bag from the (jimjyl?) women. I don't know what was in it. And he wanted to know if anyone there spoke Korean, and we said no. No one did. And he tried to give me the bag and I said no, that I wouldn't take anything from him, because in the eyes of the police, if I allow him to apologize to me, and give me the smallest token tribute of anything, his duty to me is done. And the police will not consider it any more. You might remember the couple--the Korean...ethnically Korean but linguistically I think American or Canadian--couple who were beat up a couple of months ago?
Interviewer - Yes. At..at the noraebang?
Mother - Yes. Yes. And because the...someone from the, I guess the..the gang that beat him up, someone from that gang came in and paid the hospital bill, and because they did that, that absolved them of any guilt or any kind of problem. So the police are not going to pursue it because they made restitution.
Interviewer - Oh, I didn't hear that part.
Mother - Yeah. The gentleman ended up writing a response later and it was published in the Korean Herald - I can't remember the date - but it was towards the end of March/first of April where I think he was out of the hospital at that point, and...but his jaw was still broken. And people had written in angry letters for and against his situation and he was writing a response both to the original article and to some of the letters that had been posted. And that's where he states that..the police wouldn't do anything because someone had paid the medical bill.
Interviewer - Wow. So I mean boy, he just, went and got a black bag maybe with some yoghurt in there and thought that would …
Mother - Uh, yeah, I don’t know what he was thinking. But, uh…
Interviewer - Wow.
Mother - Yeah.
Interviewer - So is the media starting to pick up on this? The Korean media?
Mother - At the sauna, we did have a reporter come over and I don’t have his business card. I gave that to the girl who’s handling the media type stuff. I think he’s from the Daegu local Korean language paper.
He was in the neighbourhood doing an investigation on a Vietnamese bride who had died mysteriously. And during the course of his investigation on this bride, I think that happened about two weeks ago, he just happened to pass us and he asked around.
I noticed him in the periphery because. You know, I was keeping an eye on these men who were watching us and I noticed here’s this new guy. And he approached a few people, asked them questions and then he finally approached us and was asking questions. And so one of my co-workers from a previous job was there and she translated and allowed me to give an interview. And he, I’m supposed to meet him again on Thursday morning at eleven.
I’m finding out more information from the investigative reporters than I am the police.
Interviewer - Wow. Now a few people have asked, now I’ve talked about the story, a few people have asked: is the U.S. embassy involved in any way?
Mother - I called the U.S. embassy at about two a.m., between one forty five and two a.m. that morning.
And, I asked for translation service because they were not draining Mike’s lungs. And they basically said, “Well, we can’t help you, we’ll get you in touch with the consular officer," and, you know, "We’ll provide services for you later.”
And so, to all the Americans out there, you know, we need to become Canadian. Because, I’m not joking when it comes right down to it, they will do nothing, absolutely nothing for you but process the paperwork.
So the only thing you have is the name of the U.S. Embassy kind of like looking over the shoulder of the cops. There’s no real bite to that. And so as soon as the cops realize there’s no true bite to that situation, then, you know, they…I don’t think they’re going to be as diligent. Not that they’re super diligent now. But they’re not going to be as concerned about any accusations of wrong-doing on their part if they think there’s no oversight by the U.S. Embassy.
So the embassy has basically contacted the hospital, contacted the police station and letting them know that they expect copies of the case and they expect everything to be turned in to them.
Now, technically, the FBI is supposed to investigate the death of any American, no matter where in the world. And so I asked them originally, that, should this turn into a murder investigation, would that information be turned over to the FBI office that’s attached to the Seoul embassy. And I was told that they didn’t do that anymore.
Interviewer - What?!
Mother - They don’t do that anymore. That the, uh, FBI office attached to the embassy is primarily for homeland security and terrorism activities. But that they know some people in the Ministry of Justice and, if they felt that the case was a murder and nothing was happening, perhaps they would leverage some phone calls with the upper people of the Ministry of Justice.
So, basically, they’re not going to let, you know, the murder of a 14 year-old boy interfere with beef coming into the country.
Interviewer - I didn’t really think of it that way.
Mother - Well, it’s really touchy right now. They want the beef to come in, the Koreans don’t want the beef, the government just wants to keep the U.S. happy so they can do the FTA thing. And, nobody wants to tie this in with that. So, how do we know demonstrators weren’t at the sauna that night after having demonstrated in downtown Daegu all afternoon?
And had gone to the sauna, ran in to Mike and decide, you know, in a fit, a flash of anger to Taekwondo kick him in the chest or something. Now, that’s pure speculation.
Interviewer - That is.
Mother - But, at the same time, people don’t just spontaneously drown.
Interviewer - And, it’s not a deep, there’re not deep pools. There’re no deep pools in Korea!
Interviewer #2 - And people don’t spontaneously drown in a crowded place.
Mother - No.
Interviewer - Well, what can people do to help? I think that’s what everyone wants to know. What can they do to help? I think everyone’s pissed off right now.
Mother - Well, OK, there’s lots of constructive things that people can do. One thing is that if anyone knows Mike, if anyone knows Mike personally and has a story about him to share, I ask that they please send a kind of character testimonial about Mike to the letters to the editor.
And for Seoul Times, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org . There’s no space between the words or anything. And for the Korean Herald, that is, uh, email@example.com .
To send letters to the editor of both newspapers about Mike. Another thing that we can do is talk to our newspapers in our hometowns. Because if every foreigner, or (not even) every foreigner, let’s say, one out of twenty foreigners in Korea right now were to write to their hometown newspaper and tell about this incident, just those newspapers around the world having the same words come up, the story would be picked up by AP (Associated Press) and Reuters readers. And once it’s picked up by [those] readers it then becomes an international story. And that’s what’s going to be needed to leverage pressure on the Korean press to start talking about this.
There was a TV interview that was supposed to have been done on Monday but it got squelched. There was another article that was supposed to have been done in a Korean newspaper that was squelched. And so, basically, I never even, I was never even interviewed by these people because it never got up off the ground. The Korean newspaper, the Korean mindset seems to think that I’m being difficult because I don’t want to settle out of court. That’s just not…that’s just how things are done. People settle out of court. They don’t go to court. They don’t get their investigations. So, it’s almost as if the sauna owner would take the fall, let his liability insurance pay off, and cover up for whatever happened in the sauna.
Interviewer - Well, that would be quick and quiet.
Mother - Yeah, that’s what they like. So, one thing is, we’ve got to keep it in the media and by writing letters to the editor and writing letters to our hometown newspapers and how you want to word that is completely up to you guys. But if we do that, it has a better chance of being picked up by international wire services.
Mother - Another thing, there’s a, I believe…see I’m not directly involved with a lot of the fundraisers that are going on. Both for ethical issues and for oversight, we want to be able to be very up above board about this whole process. Because I’m very serious when I say I want Mike’s name to live on.
I do intend for this to evolve into a foundation that focuses on, not just promoting CPR and that type of thing, but also promoting the idea of environmental awareness. Be aware of your environment. Be sensitive to your environment. And be willing to help. Have, like, Humanity 101 classes.
Interviewer - Yes!
Mother - So, anyway, in order to do that we have to make sure that certain things, that certain um, there’s oversight and very much above board. I am not in charge of handling the accounts. There’s another woman who’s doing that. Other people are handling the fundraisers. So, I’m not directly involved in any of that. My friends are doing this for me to allow me to focus on the legal aspect and the police aspect of things. So that’s kind of where the dividing line is.
I think there’s a fundraiser that’s going to happen at Thunderbird Lounge here in Daegu on May 30th. There’s supposed be another fundraiser either before or after the Daegu lounge event, the Thunderbird lounge event with a baseball league of some type.
Now, up in Chonnan area where we used to live, I believe Tom Walls is organizing a steak dinner fundraiser. And then Richard Slizak has been in touch with a motorcycle group who want to do a west coast tour in Mike’s honour and raise money that way as well.
Mother - So there’s lots of people out there who are just jumping in and saying, “Hey, we can do this,” or “Hey, let’s have a barbecue.” And word is definitely getting out and people do want to help.
And on the one hand, yes, we will need money. We need money to have documents translated, we need money to have a lawyer hired, which we have not hired yet, we don’t have enough money for a lawyer.
There’s a discrepancy between the law and what the police say about Mike. The police are telling me that it’s OK to go ahead and prepare Mike to bring him home. But at the same time, legally speaking, if I do that, I’m in risk of closing the investigation.
So, we need a lawyer to determine if it’s truly OK to prepare Mike to bring him home or if we have to wait. You may or may not be familiar with the Bill Kapoun situation.
Interviewer - Well, refresh us a little bit.
Mother - The situation is, the parents had to sign a release saying that they understood that by taking Bill home, they were in essence closing the arson investigation. So I am worried that if I take Mike to prepare to take him home that it would close the investigation and a murderer is going to walk free.
Interviewer - So, is there a website people can go to, to find more information?
Mother - I’ve been trying to post things on Facebook. It’s a group called “A Mother is Seeking Answers about her Son.” It’s kind of a long title. I didn’t set that up. He goes by H. Shaws, his handle. He’s the one who actually started it. And he just kind of told me about it and I’ve been posting things there.
Now, there’s another site that’s more for organizers and that’s a Ning site. And, of course, willing to let people help and organize due to the sensitivity of the situation, some things can be talked about among the organizers freely but shouldn’t necessarily be released to the general public. Because I don’t want to endanger this investigation. And that’s kind of my primary concern.
So, I don’t really have any answers about Mike’s funeral because, I just simply don’t know what I can do. I know the longer I wait the availability of embalming decreases. And then there’s the expense. It’s 60, 000 won or $60 U.S. a day for him to stay in the morgue. It’s incredibly expensive anyway I look at it. A lawyer wants a minimum of five million…a retainer. And that’s just a retainer to even start working on it.
Mother - The lawyer that I’ve, I can’t remember if I’ve already said this or not because I’ve just had to repeat this so many times. The lawyer that I was put in touch with last Friday, which I was really hopeful for because he was going to do this pro bono, for free, that he just basically wanted to negotiate a settlement. He wasn’t really going to act on my behalf per se.
So, yeah, we’re looking at five million for a lawyer to start and that’s just so I can answer questions about whether or not it’s OK to accept Mike back. That’s just, you know, that…I don’t really need a lawyer to represent me in criminal court because Mike and I are the victims. But apparently you have to have a lawyer in order to facilitate the process of evidence gathering and witness interviewing and making sure things get done. So it’s, I don’t need a defense lawyer but I don’t really need a civil lawyer so it’s just very confusing. Very confusing. And I’m still seeking answers for that.
Interviewer - It sounds like you need a lawyer to make sure the police are doing their job. Is that really what it amounts to?
Mother - As far as I can tell, you know, it…on one hand I don’t want to insult the police, I don’t want to make them my enemy but at the same time they’re telling me that I need to get lawyer to get Mike’s medical records, I need to get a lawyer to release the…emergency tapes and things like that.
From what I understand, they have to have evidence to take to the district attorney. The district attorney then gives them permission to pursue an investigation or not to pursue the investigation. And it’s kind of my understanding that it’s in a hold pattern until the autopsy report comes back, which could be another one to two more weeks. It’s only been one week since his autopsy.
So, um, basically, the police don’t have permission from the district attorney to continue the investigation. The district attorney has to sign off on it. And they’re waiting on the autopsy report. That’s why it was important I get Korina’s statement in yesterday because that refutes the claim by the sauna that they were trying to contact me by intercom.
They later, the police told me yesterday that the sauna has retracted that statement. They now admit that they did not try to contact me via the intercom and that, you know, we just have our experience of the woman casually looking around. She didn’t appear hurried or frantic in any way.
Which is why I immediately thought, ah this is minor, he’s just gotten, you know, he’s busted a knee and needs some stitches or something like that. Because she was so calm and she was like, she was telling us like “Balli balli, you need to hurry,” but she was not panicked. She was calm, she was not desperately looking for us. You know just a very casual glance around the room, saw us and called us over kind of thing.
Interviewer - well, what I’m going to do is on the Seoul Podcast website, I’m going to have links. I’m going to have links to the e-mail addresses and links to all the Facebook account and all the websites. So, if anyone wants to help out, come to http://seoulpodcast.com if you don’t remember all the website addresses and the e-mail addresses and, goodness, Stephanie, we wish you the best.
Interviewer #2 - I just hope you get all the answers or as many answers as possible. It almost seems like you’ll need a miracle. Not to sound hopeless but…
Mother - In some ways, on a gut level, as a mother having a very strong bond with her child, on some levels I already have the answers that I need. I know what happened to my son. There was some type of conflict and he choked and lost consciousness and they allowed him to drown.
What my next thing is, will justice be served? Or is this all going to be swept under the bridge. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But if they think that they’re going to keep me quiet, they’ve got another thing coming. They’ve never seen someone as stubborn as I am and this is not something that I’m just going to let go.
I was married for six years and I wanted a child, my husband didn’t. I got pregnant anyway and got divorced because my husband didn’t want children. Every step of the way I have fought for that child. I fought to have him, I fought to support him. I brought him here to Korea because I thought we would be in a safe environment. There would be no gangs, there would be nobody trying to hand him a crack pipe.
Everything I have done in the past decade and a half has been in service to my son. And anybody who ever saw us together knew we were two peas in a pod. We were best friends. We did so many things together. It’s like my twin is missing. Then there’s the thought that I’m never going to have grandkids. And so, no, I’m just not going to let it go. I can’t. It’s not possible.
Interviewer - Thank you Stephanie for coming on. I hope everyone just gets angry enough to actually finally change how the system works. And, I don’t know, just how society works and so many ways that it seems so mind-bogglingly cold.
Mother - I don’t know if we’re going to revolutionize the system but an idea is quite contagious. And if we can just spark the idea of human compassion then hopefully if we fan that spark that that would raise a level of awareness to the point where they can claim to be a global society.
Interviewer - Exactly.
Mother - OK. It’s hard to listen to and it’s hard to talk about. I’ve kind of reached my limit for the day.
Interviewer - Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with us.
Mother - I’d like to thank you guys and also want to thank everyone who’s already chipped in and helped, who’s already sent in a letter. Because if it weren’t for you guys, they would have, you know, quieted my voice a long time ago and it’s really important that we keep shouting out the message.
And not…we need to link Mike with Bill and we need to link both of them with Mathew. We need to keep linking all these people together and not let the fallen expats be forgotten. Because their testimony stands as a truth about what goes on over here.