US diplomat's wife, son attacked in Seoul store
By Kim Rahn
The pregnant wife and son of a U.S. diplomat were attacked by a mentally challenged teenager at a discount store in downtown Seoul, Wednesday.
The Korean wife of Donald E. Townsend Jr., intellectual property rights attache to Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), claimed staffers of the discount outlet E-Mart did nothing to stop the attacker from beating them but instead just watched the scene. Officials of the store said they did their utmost immediately and took appropriate action to defuse the incident.
According to the wife who is nine months pregnant and asked not to be named, she and her four-year-old son were in the toy aisle at the Yeongdeungpo branch of E-Mart in the Times Square shopping mall in the evening along with her father. She came to Korea from Moscow a week ago, where her husband works for the U.S. Embassy, to have her baby.
“In the deserted aisle, a teen suddenly ran at my son at full speed and pushed him with his whole body. My boy was thrown down with his head hitting the floor,” she told The Korea Times.
“The attacker was going to flee, so I caught him and called for help. Then he began to hit me, and my father tried to separate him from me, worrying that he might hit my abdomen,” the 35-year-old said.
She claimed that staffers there gathered around them but didn’t try to protect her and just watched. “There were staffers in security guard uniforms, calling for help through walkie-talkies, but they just watched a pregnant woman being beaten. The attacker attempted to flee again but a bystander grabbed him and then the security guards caught him, too.”
She was taken to a resting place and the attacker, to a security office. Police officers and the teen’s parents came. The attacker was autistic and wandered about the store when his care worker took his eyes off him. It was found that he attacked another girl there about five minutes before the incident involving the diplomat’s family.
Townsend wrote in an e-mail, “Clearly, E-Mart security had a responsibility to protect shoppers in their store to at least a reasonable degree. It is clear that their actions did not meet this standard.”
The wife was transferred to Severance Hospital because she experienced labor pains. While receiving medication to relieve the pain, the attacker’s parents came to her ward and demanded that she not file a complaint against their son, saying he could be arrested.
“I had to call the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and have them contact the police to request that they evict the parents from my wife’s room, because the hospital failed to do so. Do victims in Korea have no protection from their attackers? Even at the hospital, the family of the attackers can come in at will and harassed the victim?” Townsend said.
His wife said that she will go to the police station on Sunday to fill out a written statement. “What I want is not putting the attacker behind bars. But there should be a legal measure to prevent him from harming other people.”
Regarding her claim, an official at E-Mart said its staffers didn’t just watch the scene but did what they were supposed to do.
“Female staffers called the security team through walkie-talkies, and the security guards arrived at the scene in two minutes and police officers came one minute later. They followed security manuals as promptly as they could, calling police and 119 rescuers,” the official said.
He said it was unlikely that security guards didn’t try to protect her but, saying she might have mistaken other staffers with walkie-talkies as security guards.
“The parents of another girl who was also attacked complained at the customer service desk, and we sent the girl to a hospital, too, to get a checkup. It was an unexpected incident caused by a mentally challenged boy,” he said.