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Members of the local Korean American community paid tribute on Tuesday to the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster off the coast of South Korea by planting a tree next to the spring-fed brook running through the Fern Dell section of Griffith Park.
Approximately 20 members of the group Moo Goong Hwa Conservation Corps planted a flowering hibiscus tree that produces the “mugunghwa” — South Korea’s national flower — in commemoration of the victims. The death toll in the disaster was reported at 212 victims as of Wednesday, with 70 people still missing, according to the Korean Yonhap News Agency. The Sewol ferry capsized and sank of the coast of Jindo island on April 16. Approximately 175 people were rescued. A majority of the victims were reported to be South Korean high school students who were heading to Jindo for vacation.
The tree planting was coordinated by City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, who led the ceremony and helped shovel dirt around the newly planted tree. The site, approximately halfway along the Fern Dell pathway, was selected because members of the Korean American community and the Moo Goong Hwa Conservation Corps, which is based in Koreatown, routinely visit the area and help with clean-up efforts.
“We gather to remember this tragedy of tragedies,” LaBonge said. “We should always come together and reflect, and think of the victims and the families. We must, as a people, gather together to get stronger.”
Yungyong Jang, president of the Moo Goong Hwa Conservation Corps, said he hopes the tree will inspire visitors to reflect on the disaster and the plight of the victims and their families.
“We think of it as a thoughtful opportunity for our brothers and sisters in South Korea, to be able to reach out to them,” he said, adding that he was pleased they were able to commemorate the tragedy in a respectful way.
A few local residents and representatives of the Friends of Griffith Park also attended the commemoration ceremony and offered a message of solidarity. Los Feliz resident David Rowley said he visits Fern Dell two to three times a week, and has met many Korean Americans who regularly come to the area for exercise.
“I see a lot of Korean people up here, especially in the mornings, and a lot of them [have become] friends who I walk and hike with,” Rowley said. “I wanted to bring some flowers. Many of the victims were high school kids who were totally innocent. It’s just horrible.”
Gerry Hans, president of the Friends of Griffith Park, said planting a tree at the site is a fitting tribute to the victims. The organization is currently in the midst of renovating Fern Dell.
“We are in phase two of planting and restoring twenty-two acres of Fern Dell and bringing it back to its glory,” Hans said. “Trees and plants are a good way to remember.”
LaBonge added that he stands with the Korean American community, and hopes the tree will be symbolic of the strong relationship between the United States and South Korea.
“My hope is someone in Korea will read this and know we are brothers,” LaBonge said.
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