Many South Korean high schools organize trips for first- or second-year students, and Jeju is a popular destination. Students and parents in Ansan spoke of the excitement of the annual trip. The students have taken ferries to the southern island in recent years because they can spend more time with each other. They take pictures of the stars, of the ocean and islands, of each other. They gossip. They bond in a way not possible on shorter plane or train trips. Then, after the four-day trip is over, they fly back home.
Kim Eun-taek, an 18-year-old third-year student, knows more than 10 of the missing students, including one of his best friends.
“He lives next door. We used to play at my house together. He cooked food for me, fried sweet potatoes ... fried vegetables,” said Kim, putting up his sweatshirt hood and lowering his head.
Ko Jae Hyoung, who sells fried chicken near the school, said the neighborhood is close-knit. Students grow up together, graduating from the same elementary and middle schools.
Ko closed his restaurant Wednesday to volunteer at the school. That night, he and about 30 others held a candlelight vigil to pray for the safe return of the students. Dozens of residents held vigils again on Thursday night.
Ko, whose daughter is a first-year student at the school, remembers some of the missing students visiting his restaurant to eat chicken and joke around with him.
“Now, the neighborhood is like a funeral home,” he said.