Blessi was only part way through the semester when he became one of more than 150 people killed at a Halloween celebration in Seoul, packed so tightly that many could not breathe. He is 20 years old.
“He was an outsider, he was full of adventure,” said his father, Steve Blessy, in an interview with The Washington Post. “This was his first big adventure.”
At least two Americans were killed in Saturday’s catastrophic surge, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. The State Department declined to name the two, but Blessi was the first to be publicly identified when his family shared details of his death with social media and news outlets. Later Sunday, the University of Kentucky announced that Ann Geiske, a junior nursing student who was studying abroad, had died.
The younger of two brothers who were best friends, Blessy was remembered as a big-hearted, happy-go-lucky person who was quick to step up for others. His adventurous spirit was evident even as a child, his father said. “You know, you go to the store and you have to stick him because he’s running.”
Here is the reason why the crowd is crushed like the deadly one in Seoul
He loved basketball and his pets – geckos, turtles and crabs. He became an Eagle Scout like Joey’s older brother by a year and went to college with hopes of working in international business.
He kept in touch with his family via WhatsApp while in South Korea, sending photos and videos of his trip. One video, sent from Jeju Island, opens with “Hey mom, hey dad, hey Joey” and Stephen smiling and waving before showing the waves spreading out in front of him. This weekend, he texted his dad saying that midterms were over and he was going to hang out with friends.
“I just said, ‘Listen, be safe. I love you,” Steve Blessy said. “That was the last text message between us.”
He and his wife had returned home from grocery shopping on Saturday when his brother reached out: Did they see what happened in Seoul? is steven ok
“They kept calling and calling and calling and no answer,” said Steve Blessi, who tried to contact his son. That, he said, “scared us.” A police officer who said he had found the cell phone in the Itaewon area where the deadly mobs had broken out eventually picked up the phone.
Over the course of several agonizing hours, Blessis called the U.S. Embassy and study abroad program contacts. They posted a photo of their son on Twitter. They talked to his friends and discovered that he was among those who decided to stay in the crowd as the others left.
They hoped he would be in the hospital. Instead, they received a call confirming the worst.
“I never thought anything like this would happen,” said Steve Blessy. “I cannot understand how they could not control the crowd. I don’t even know how it happened.
He called the Sunday Post on the phone while returning from picking up his oldest son, who was in college in Alabama. Once home, he said, he and his wife “hug him to his chest, do our best to keep him with us, take care of him.”
They are making arrangements to bring Blessy’s body back to the United States, where “he will be with us from now until the day we die.”
The father called his family “broken”. People close to his son were reaching out to share what a great person he was, and he said, “You love them for it, but it doesn’t take away the pain, I don’t know. I do not know.”
He added, “It’s going to be very difficult to live with this for the rest of our lives.” His days would now begin and end, he said with that awful thought: “One of our boys is no longer with us.”
Trying to remind himself that accidents can happen anywhere, he second-guessed the decision to let his son study on the other side of the world. As he knew, his son had a strong desire to go.
“I said, ‘I can’t protect you there,'” Steve Blessy recounted. “Let those words be true…”
Bryan Pietsch and Grace Moon contributed to this report.