Los Angeles Times

She fled North Korea for a better life. How her lonely, impoverished death became political

SEOUL, South Korea - When they heard the news about Han Sung-ok, they gathered from all corners of the capital and other South Korean cities near and far.

Most had never met the 42-year-old single mother, who long ago had escaped from North Korea.

She and her 6-year-old son Dong-jin had little contact with the outside world in the months leading up to late July, when they were found dead in a low-income Seoul apartment, possibly of starvation.

But many fellow North Korean refugees felt like they knew her. They understood the dangers Han must have endured to reach this metropolis - and the hardships that came with trying to make a new life.

And so they converged amid the high-rises in downtown Seoul at a makeshift memorial, forming a stand-in family to keep vigil. That was weeks ago.

Politicians and cameras have come and gone, chrysanthemums have wilted and yellowed. Night after night, unknowing tourists have snapped photos, and joggers have passed without a second look.

The mourners are still there.

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It was a water meter

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