88-year-old is reunited with family after 46 years

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88-year-old is reunited with family after 46 years

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Kim Soon-geom, second from left, poses for a photo along with two of her sisters and her 88-year-old mother, center, at a family reunion for the first time in 46 years. Provided by the Guro Police Precinct

“Why didn’t you try to find me?” cried 54-year-old Kim Soon-geom, in a reunion with her mother after they had been separated for 46 years.

“We were all trying to find you in Samcheok [in Gangwon], visiting there every day thinking you must have been there,” said her sister Soon-hak, while deeply hugging her when they met each other for the first time in 46 years.

Soon-gum went missing in 1966 while helping her sister, who was two years older than her, wash dishes at a bistro in a coal mine village in Taebaek, Gangwon. The then 8-year-old Kim was approached by an unknown woman while working at the shop, who told Soon-geom she would take her to meet her mother.

The woman’s promise turned out to be a trick, a common practice by female brokers in the 1960s who would sell young children in the countryside to households in the city as maids. The young Kim was soon put on a train bound for Seoul.

Not knowing why, she was suddenly sent to a rich family’s house in Dongdaemun District, central Seoul, to work as a housemaid with no education. After 22 years, the 30-year-old woman puckered up the courage to leave the house.

Kim spent the last 46 years thinking she would have no chance to reunite with her family as she struggled to recall her memories from Taebaek.

It was Kim’s friends who brought her to the Seoul Guro Police Precinct hoping for the small chance of being reunited with her family.

The only memories that Kim could provide the police were that she lived near the Taebaek area and her father passed away while working as a logger.

Seo Jae-gong, director of the missing persons division at the precinct, puzzled over those slim recollections with four division officials and made calls to hundreds of police stations in Gangwon and Gyeongsang, asking if Kim’s description of her hometown matched their jurisdiction areas.

Seo’s tireless efforts led him to find out that Kim lived in Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang. Seo visited a small town called Banya located in the county with Kim on Oct. 27 and met a town resident who happened to know the son of Kim’s second-oldest sister.

Kim’s reunion with her family for the first time in 46 years came in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang, on Nov. 3, which was Kim’s birthday.

“I now talk to my sisters five times a day on the phone,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I am deeply grateful to the police officials for their selfless efforts in finding my family.”

By Lee Ga-hyeok [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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