Bodies of 5 'frog boys,' missing since 1991, found on mountain

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Bodies of 5 'frog boys,' missing since 1991, found on mountain

DAEGU -- The bodies of five boys who went out to catch frogs one day 1991 were found at a mountain in Daegu on Thursday.

U Cheol-won, Jo Ho-yeon, Kim Yeong-gyu, Park Chan-in and Kim Jong-sik, aged 9 to 13 years, left their homes March 26, 1991, never to return. The entire nation was caught up in the unsuccessful search to find them.

Dalseo Police Precinct in Daegu said that two men, one identified as Choi Hwan-tae, 55, discovered the remains of the boys at 400 meters above sea level on Mount Waryong in Yongsan district, not far from their homes.

"I was picking acorns," Mr. Choi said. He found pieces of shoes and clothing. The police searched the areas and found the five bodies. The area was only 2 kilometers from the neighborhood where the boys lived.

Kim Su-hwan, the police officer who led the search, said he was sure that the bodies were those of the boys.

"The bodies are the missing boys, as five bodies were found together and the shoes are those of the missing children," a police associate said. The police also found dental braces on the body presumed to be that of Jo Ho-yeon, who was then 12 years old.

The boys became known throughout the nation as "the frog boys." There seemed to be no clues. Rumors abounded about the disappearance. Some speculated that they had been kidnapped by a mentally ill person.

But the police said Thursday that they have found no indications of homicide so far and that the most likely explanation is that the children froze to death. The bodies were entwined, police said, suggesting that the boys tried to overcome the cold by huddling together. To find the exact cause of the boys' death, the shoes and clothes were sent to the National Institute of Scientific Investigation.

The police suspended excavation of the bodies Thursday. Operations will resume Friday afternoon.

Some of the boys' parents came to the scene to identify the bodies. Most were too shocked to comment. "I cannot remember whether my son had braces or not," said the mother of Jo Ho-yeon. She stayed at the scene for an hour before leaving.

At the time of the disappearance, many of the parents of the "frog boys" quit their jobs and wandered around the nation looking for their sons. Most of them have moved away from the neighborhood. Seongseo Elementary School, where the boys were enrolled, removed their names from the school registry or listed them as supernumerary students.

Kim Cheol-gyu, father of one of the boys, died of liver cancer last October at the age of 49. He had traveled all over the nation in search for his son.

President Roh Tae-woo dispatched a police force of 300,000 in 1991 to look for the boys. Schools, companies and civic groups made donations totaling 42 million won ($35,000) as a reward to those who found the boys. The police operated a special investigation center to search the boys until last year. Previous searches were conducted at Mount Waryong, or at nearby reservoirs and irrigation waterways. Express bus terminals and stations nationwide were also searched intensively.

Throughout the search, police were troubled by false reports that the boys had been seen.

One man even tried to pass himself off as their kidnapper. “I have kidnapped the boys for an exchange of ransom, and they’re dying of malnutrition,” went one of the phone calls to police.

by Hwang Sun-yoon

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