(YTN/CNN) – Authorities first came to know there was a problem on the ferry not from the crew … but a young passenger.
And across South Korea, that boy is being called a hero.
They came to pay their last respects to a young man who saved the lives of many, but lost his own.
Choi Duk-Ha is the 17-year-old who first alerted emergency officials that the ferry he was on was sinking.
It gave emergency crews vital extra minutes to get to the stricken vessel, and to rescue more passengers.
Duk-Ha made that call at the expense of calling his own parents, and now they will never hear his voice again.
At this funeral home in their hometown of Ansan, his parents have been been greeting mourners for the past two days. The community here is shattered. 325 students on board the ferry came from the nearby Danwon High School.
Only 78 survived.
We also came to pay our own respects and to find out more about their only son, now being hailed across South Korea as a hero.
“He was very special in that he was very cheerful and was very good at making friends… He was also very calm and did not get upset easily.
He was unusually excited about this trip… He was so incredibly happy. And, so I was also very happy because he was so happy. So, I bid him farewell in the morning wishing him a good trip but it ended up this way … my heart is breaking … My boy was pure in heart. He was so innocent. His spirits are so pure.
It probably was only nature for my boy to have called 911 first,” his mother Kim Sang-Hee said.
“I was so surprised when I heard about Duk-Ha making that first call. We were wondering why is our Duk-Ha not calling us? We presumed that something must have happened that prevented him from calling us. It was not until later that we learned from the media. Duk-Ha always had leadership quality, especially among his friends. I am very proud of him. Although Duk-Ha made the sacrifice, he saved many lives,” his father Choi Sung-Woong said.
Choi Sung-Woong still doesn’t know what happened that night.
“I feel so frustrated that I cannot find out more about what Duk-Ha has done and I want to learn more,” Sung-Woong said.
In spite of their own grief, they have words for those who made it out.
“My child has gone to the heaven but children who survived must grow up to be adults. I really want them to overcome the pain and move on and really live a full life for their sake as well for the sake of our children, who did not make it. I want them to be happy and forget about the difficult time,” Sang-Hee said.
“I have passed the point of hating or blaming anyone. I hope that we can let that go. Those people will have to live with too much burden. My Duk-Ha has saved lots of life and has done many good deed .. we believe that God brought Duk-Ha to this life to have Duk-Ha for this purpose… Now, I only have one thought, that our children will heal from the pain .. that is the only thought that is going through my mind right now,” Sung-Woong said.
And they console themselves that their son died trying to save others.
“As a mum, I wished he did not call 911 but called me instead. But, I am so proud of what my son has done and that is a consolation to my broken heart and will keep me going for the rest of the time,” Sang-Hee said.
“People say that my Duk-Ha is a hero. But, to me, he is not a hero. He is my son, my son.. that is how I am going to remember him,” Sung-Woong said.