Ferry texts – faked, forged and preying on the emotions of distraught loved ones – were sent by at least one individual who South Korean police say is under investigation. Hundreds of texts and social media messages were sent by supposed survivors while still on board the capsized ferry that sank Wednesday off South Korea's southwest coast. The ferry was carrying 475 people on board. Officials say 28 bodies have been found and 268 are still missing.
According to the USA Today on Friday, “hundreds of text messages allegedly sent by missing students aboard a sunken ferry to family members were faked, according to Korea's Cyber Terror Response Center.”
The texts sent to parents and other family members was revealed as a heartbreaking hoax. South Korean officials expressed shock and outrage after they discovered that the messages – purported to be the desperate pleas of children awaiting rescue – were manipulated and revealed as fake.
“An investigation from the Police Cyber Terror Response Center verified that all texts in question [from passengers still within the ship] are fake,” South Korea police posted on its official Twitter account. “Please stop such actions that are causing pain to the families of missing passengers. The malicious distributors of these texts will be strictly dealt with.”
A sampling of the phony texts:
I am still alive...in the cafeteria please help me.
Dad don’t worry I’ve got a life vest on and we’re huddled together.
The texts ricocheted across social media and fueled family members’ hopes that their loved ones were still alive. However those feelings quickly turned to anger and rage when families found out that the messages were phony.
Investigators do not know if the texts were sent by someone who hacked cell phone records as a sick joke, or if someone authorized release of the texts in order to buoy hope or cover up what is now being revealed as a series of missteps in the ferry disaster.
Ferry captain Lee Joon Seok, 69, was hit with five violations in connection with the tragedy. Witnesses say he was one of the first to leave the doomed vessel. Among the charges levied against Seok include “negligence, causing bodily injury and not seeking rescue from other ships.”
The official cause of the accident is still being probed, but a South Korean prosecutor said that Seok was not at the helm in the control room when the ship started to overturn. A third mate was in the steering room, and is also being investigated for mis-maneuvering the boat and causing it to list too heavily to one side, ultimately capsizing.
“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” Seok said briefly. “I don't know what to say.”
Update: The Daily Mail is now reporting that among the possible text hoaxers are a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old.
One of the culprits behind the texts was identified as a 15-year-old middle school student from Seoul, according to the Korea Herald. Police said the teen, whose last name is Kim, wrote a message online as a joke, apparently unaware that and it would be circulated by other Internet users.
A second hoaxer, an 11-year-old girl also with the last name Kim, was found to have impersonated a missing person and posted a message asking for help, the Korea Herald reported.
It was revealed on Thursday that the vice-principal in charge of the students, rescued from the tragic ferry sinking Wednesday, evidently took his own life. He was found hanging from a tree by his belt outside of the school gym where relatives had gathered.