ANSAN, South Korea -- The vice principal of the high school that is missing more than 250 students and teachers in the wake of a ferry sinking committed suicide Friday afternoon, authorities said.
Kang Min-kyu, 52, had been traveling with the group of Danwon High School students and staff to Jeju Island when the ship sank Wednesday with 475 people aboard. He was rescued on one of the first boats, but most of the others from the school were not so fortunate.
So far, 11 Danwon students and three teachers are among the confirmed dead, but the toll is expected to rise sharply once divers can access the hull of the vessel, which remains submerged.
In all, 28 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, and 268 remain unaccounted for -- including 247 students and 11 teachers from Danwon.
Hundreds of divers from the military, coast guard and private firms continued trying to reach the inside of the ship Friday, but little progress was reported. The Sewol ferry is submerged in an area of high currents and low visibility, hampering efforts to access the hull. Around noon Friday, the entire ship sunk for the first time, further diminishing chances that survivors will be found.
Kang was found at 4:10 p.m. Friday by police, hanged from a pine tree behind a sports stadium in Jindo, a southern port town near the site of the sinking. Police had reportedly been searching for him, as he had been out of contact since Thursday.
Upon hearing the news that Kang had taken his own life, one middle-aged woman who was gathered with other relatives of the missing at the school, waiting for news, shouted that his suicide was a dishonorable act and a betrayal to survivors.
The school, in a quiet suburb about an hour south of Seoul, has been turned into a de facto disaster response center. The entrance is crowded with bereaved relatives and students. In the fourth-floor auditorium, TV coverage of the disaster is being broadcast via projector. Groups of students, many in their uniforms, sit in groups, quietly chatting, consoling one another and checking their smartphones.
Throughout the hallways, the doors of classrooms with missing students and teachers are covered in handwritten notes, with messages such as “We miss you” and “We wish for your safe return.”