Stephannie White lost her 14 year old son, Michael, over four years ago in suspicious circumstances at Royal Hawaiian Sauna in Gyeongsan, near Daegu.
Stephannie’s accounts of the incident are below, and can be found in full at Mightie Mike website which Stephannie has dedicated to her son, his death and ultimately seeking justice in his and other suspicious cases involving Westerners:
Mike White, a healthy teenager, went to a crowded family style sauna with his mother and family friends about 10pm on the eve of Mother’s Day. Mike, being the only male in the group, separated from the rest to go to the Men’s section (Sauna’s are segregated by gender). The sauna was crowed with families who were enjoying bathing/bonding rituals before attending temple festivities over the next two days. There were at least 50 women with children on the women’s side. It is safe to assume a near equal number of fathers and a few sons were in the men’s section, as this is a family event.
Mike was accosted by teenagers from a Aikido Martial Arts school located across the street from the Royal Hawaiian Sauna just after he arrived in the locker room. Encouraged by sauna staff, Mike was called “Hamburger Boy” and asked if he was American. He was attacked by the teenagers who were then joined by sauna staff as they beat him into unconsciousness.
At 11:00pm, staff called Lee Jeong Seop, Sauna Manager to the men’s floor. Someone using the business phone, called 112 (emergency services) and asked “how do you know if someone is dead” the operator replied by asking, “Are their eyes rolled back in their head?” The caller hung up. Sauna staff and the fathers of the teenagers (who were also present) thought that Mike was “already dead” and fearing repercussions for murder, upon the orders of Lee Jeong Seop, decided to cover up the fight by placing Mike’s helpless vulnerable body into a shallow pool. Mike floated, so one of the sauna staff stepped into the pool and submerged his body.
Awake now with lungs filled with water, Mike managed to crawl from the shallow pool coughing and retching. On hands and knees, Mike looked about wildly, confused, eyes begging for help. A staff member ran to a supply closet and using a towel, carried a scoop of pool cleaning chemical powder, running back to Mike, he rubbed the chemicals in Mike’s hair to ‘finish him off’. Staff and patrons stood around as Mike reached out for help, watching him cough and retch himself back into unconsciousness. At 11:28, the second call was made to 112 requesting a “body pick up”.
Stephannie and friends were notified at 11:45 that “the boy” was going to the hospital. Stephannie tried calling Mike’s cell phone at 11:47, there was no answer. Without rinsing conditioners or facial creams, the three females dressed in their street clothes as fast as they could and were led to a back stairwell that led to a parking lot where an ambulance was waiting. Mike was unconscious in the back with one EMT worker doing chest compressions, but not giving breath. (one of the worst things to do in cases of drowning) The ambulance refused transport to the hospital until a translator was called in, and it was Stephannie’s responsibility to find one at midnight on a Saturday night. Stephannie was forced to call Lee In Hui (also spelled Lee Inhee) a shady co-worker to translate.
At the hospital ER, the ‘surgeon on staff’ would later be discovered to be a DENTIST, yes that’s right a DENTIST, who was untrained in extreme lifesaving measures. His response was to provide 3 or 4 chest compressions then declare Mike dead. After checking Mike’s eye pupil reaction herself, Stephannie realized Mike was still ‘savable’. She also noticed when she began to give chest compressions, the sternum was intact, but his lower right ribs seemed ‘off’. C.F. noticed it as well.
While Stephannie & family friend C.F. performed chest compressions & bullying the intubation attendant to continue to provide oxygen, they anxiously watched the oxygen monitor to make sure the number stayed above 90, ensuring Mike was getting enough oxygen to feed his brain. They repeatedly asked Lee Inhui to translate that they were willing and able to pay for extreme measures please would the ER staff do more? Unknown to Stephannie or C.F., Lee Inhui was arranging (per Korean custom) blood money settlement for which Inhui would get up to 20% commission for her ‘troubles’. The police, thinking all would be settled, saw no reason to investigate the incident. The ER DENTIST would perform electroshock therapy incorrectly and take two xrays of Mike’s chest revealing that his lower right ribs had been broken and lacerated his lung. He was bleeding to death internally. The EMT worker apologized, saying he was not certified in CPR and he was only supposed to pick up a dead body, not work to revive anyone.
By 1:44 am on Mother’s Day, the US Embassy would refuse emergency assistance in requesting Mike be transported to a hospital capable of emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and do open heart massage. At 2am, Mike’s body would be put into a morgue cold box while still brain alive. From that moment, every conceivable pressure was brought against Mike’s mother, to force her to accept blood money and leave South Korea without a police investigation. Against all odds and directly placing herself in danger of assault from AES members and sauna hired thugs, Mike’s mother remained in South Korea trying to battle for a criminal investigation through the legal means available to her. This site outlines her struggles, the murders of numerous other foreign nationals and tells the world, just who was Mightie Mike White.
All this is undoubtedly very disturbing. But, just as disturbing has been the seeming lack of accountability, cover-ups, misinformation and lack of justice surrounding this case which has prevented Stephannie from receiving a definitive answer, justice and closure surrounding the tragic death of her son.
But, all this is not an isolated incident. As these interviews below reveal there were suspicious circumstances where ample evidence was covered up or completely omitted in the cases of Matthew Sellers, David Gearson and Bill Kapoun, along with several other Westerners.
SeoulPodcast #40: Tragedies of Errors - Interview with Stephannie along with the sisters of Matthew Sellers and David Gearson who also died under suspicious circumstances.
SeoulPodcast Special Episode: Bill Kapoun’s Story – Interview with Bill’s mother on her son’s, and his girlfriend’s, tragic death.
I am not here to pass judgement on these cases, discuss whether they were indeed murders that have been covered up. What I am here to do by passing on Mike’s story, along with Matthew’s, David’s and Bill’s, is to keep the candles burning, keep the stories open and discussed in the hope, that one day – ideally soon – these cases will be re-opened, properly examined in the ultimate desire that the families of the young men and women who have tragically lost their lives in South Korea under suspicious circumstances finally receive adequate closure.
This is also not an anti-Korean rant. This is a pro-South Korean justice rant. South Korean citizens who are not wealthy, adequately connected or without the right resources are also denied proper justice and closure due to many factors including corruption, cover-ups, and malpractice. Many cases are only fully investigated and analysed when the authorities are shamed enough by public opinion and media exposure into action. Sad but unfortunately often true.
One of the mitigating factors in my decision to ultimately leave my adopted home of seven years was the reality that dawned upon that should I ever be unfortunate enough to be alone at the wrong place at the wrong time, meet the wrong people at the wrong time or simply have an unfortunate yet serious accident there was a fair chance that my friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances would never receive the full, official and verifiably true account of my passing.
This is just no longer acceptable for an economic power with an ever-increasing profile on the international stage. As such I believe it is important for Westerners in Korea – past and present, Koreans, and/or Korea lovers to not let these incidents be buried – never to be risen again. I’m a big believer in justice, and still believe that true justice has not been served in these – and unfortunately several other – cases. For South Korea to truly be considered a great, modern, affluent and responsible global player – the onus is on them to do the right and adequately re-dress these cases.
Keep the candle burning.