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Grief, tough times lead to deaths of mother, girl

Apr 10,2018
The bodies of a 40-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter were discovered two months after their deaths, the Goesan Police Station in North Chungcheong announced on Sunday.

The mother was struggling financially after the deaths of her husband and mother late last year. Police say she may have stabbed herself and overdosed on drugs.

The single mother, surnamed Chung, was found lying on the floor of her apartment, while her daughter’s corpse was found wrapped in a blanket on her bed, Friday night in Jeungpyeong County, North Chungcheong.

Chung didn’t seem to interact much with her neighbors, police said.

“I saw her often in the elevator with her daughter,” said a neighbor. “She didn’t look well, but I didn’t really know of her situation. I hadn’t seen her for a few months so I assumed she moved.”

The woman was struggling to pay the apartment’s rent and maintenance fees on a monthly income of 100,000 won ($93). She was ineligible to receive government welfare because she and her daughter were not officially considered part of a low-income household.

A worker at the apartment’s management office called the police when the woman didn’t pay her rent or maintenance fees for several months.

“Her rent was about three months overdue,” said the employee, “so I went to her apartment, but no one answered. That’s when I called the police.”

Police are investigating whether Chung committed suicide, as her husband was reported to have taken his life after his business failed last September. Her mother also passed away after battling a chronic illness the same month.

“The autopsy results have to come out before we can figure out the exact cause of their deaths,” said a source from the police station. “But, as of now, there are no signs of murder. We found a suicide note that says, ‘I’ve had a hard time because my husband left this world before me.’ It seems she was struggling financially and mentally after her husband and mother’s deaths.”

Chung also told police that her “future seemed bleak” when they questioned her after her husband’s death.

The case points to a flaw in the government welfare system for low-income families.

Since 2015, after a single mother and her two daughters committed suicide in Songpa District, southern Seoul, due to financial struggles, the Ministry of Health and Welfare set up a system that detects at-risk households struggling with debt and financial hardship every two months, based on information including failure to pay health insurance or the cutting off of electricity and gas because of unpaid bills. The system was created to prevent tragedies like the one in Songpa District.

But the system doesn’t factor in families who pay a security deposit over 100 million won for their apartment.

Chung paid 125 million won for the security deposit on her apartment, with a monthly rent of 130,000 won.

“Though she didn’t really have an income,” explained Choi Jae-wook, a welfare worker at the county, “because her high security deposit was still a part of her assets, she wasn’t eligible to receive welfare funds for low-income families.”

Chung lived in an apartment that didn’t cut off gas or electricity even if bills were overdue, making it harder for her to be detected as an at-risk household.

BY CHOI JONG-KWON, CHUNG JONG-HOON [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]