SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Forensic testing on teeth found in the wreckage of a sunken ferry recently raised from the sea has identified a girl missing since the 2014 disaster that killed 304 people, South Korean officials said Friday.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said testing showed the teeth were from 17-year-old Huh Da-yun, who was among 245 students from the same high school who died when the Sewol ferry sank on April 16, 2014.
Divers recovered 295 bodies from the ship’s wreckage and nearby seas before the government stopped the underwater search after seven months, leaving nine passengers unaccounted for.
Officials on Wednesday said DNA testing on a bone confirmed it was from a teacher who had been missing. Remains of three students, another teacher, a woman, a man and his 6-year-old son have yet to be identified.
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Huh’s family members weren’t immediately reachable for comment.
In a 2014 interview with The Associated Press, her mother, Park Eun-mi, described Huh as a mild-mannered girl who dreamed of becoming a kindergarten teacher.
Park recalled her last conversation with Huh with regret — she drove Huh to school before the students left for the doomed trip, but had to drive back home at one point because Huh had forgotten her cellphone. Park spent her last moments with Huh scolding her.
“I didn’t hug her,” Park then said. “That’s what hurts the most.”
Finding the remains of the missing victims would help bring closure to one of the country’s deadliest disasters, which triggered a national outpouring of grief and outrage over what was seen as a botched rescue job by the government, which eventually contributed to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.
In March, salvage workers completed a months-long effort to raise the 6,800-ton ferry from waters off the country’s southwest coast and tow it to port in Mokpo, where investigators continue to search the wreckage for the remains of the victims.
Huh’s parents were among dozens of grieving relatives who have protested for years calling for a stronger investigation into the government’s responsibility into the sinking, which was partially blamed on official incompetence and corruption, and for higher-level officials to be held accountable.
Accusations that then President Park was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking were included in the impeachment bill lawmakers passed last December, before she was formally removed from office and arrested over corruption charges in March.
The ferry’s captain survived and is serving a life sentence after a court found him guilty of committing homicide through “willful negligence” because he fled the ship without issuing an evacuation order.