Closure as missing man is found
Nearly 14 years after a Korean man went missing in Whanga¯ rei, his remains have been discovered, bringing closure for the family, police and volunteers who searched for days.
Korean man Sun Il Keum had only been in Whanga¯ rei for two days visiting his son when he wandered off on November 19, 2004.
Keum was 74 years old, spoke little English, suffered from Alzheimer’s and was unfamiliar with Whanga¯ rei.
He left his son’s house for a walk on Otaika Rd and was last seen heading towards the shopping centre about 9am. He failed to return home and his son raised the alarm with police about 5pm the same day. His disappearance sparked a massive search across the city of Whanga¯ rei but he was never found.
Last Monday about 10.15am Northpower workers who were clearing thick scrub at a site in Morningside, off Sun Valley Drive, noticed some items of clothing and on closer inspection discovered skeletal remains.
A week later a coroner cleared police to release the name after being satisfied the remains were that of Keum.
Heading the original search was Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe, who had just been appointed the officer in charge of the police specialist Search and Rescue squad.
He still holds the position with the squad and had always wondered what happened to the missing Korean man.
Metcalfe went to the Morningside site last week and, as soon as he saw the clothing, he knew they had found Keum.
He was last seen wearing a blue jacket, long brown pants, white sports shoes and a light coloured floppy hat.
Metcalfe said the remains were taken to Whangarei Hospital where police carried out victim identification procedures. The scene was blessed by a kaumatua.
“Along with the clothing and other items we found, including a wallet with a Korean coin, we were able to identify him as Mr Keum,” he said.
“The family who are now living in Christchurch have been contacted and have been able to confirm the items found belonged to him.”
“It’s closure for the family and closure for those who searched for him because now he has been found.”
Metcalfe said the area in which Keum’s remains were found had been searched initially and had also been subject to Police Search and Rescue training days using the cold case scenario.
He said over the years he had always remembered the case and wondered where the missing man had gone.
“It was one of the biggest and most extensive searches we have ever done in Northland.
“It was an unresolved case that I never forgot about,” he said.
However, very dense scrub in the area was difficult to work through and it was only while clearing for a new subdivision that the area had become easily accessible and exposed the clothing and remains.
Immediately after Keum was reported missing, up to 40 police SAR staff and volunteers conducted an intensive search of the Otaika, Raumanga and Morningside areas.
The following week 22 people undertook a further day-long search of the Morningside and South End Ave area on foot, while police also flew in the Northland Rescue helicopter, all to no avail.
In an inquest in 2006 coroner Max Atkins ruled Keum had died of natural causes or exposure and was probably in an industrial wasteland in an area near Morningside Rd and Rewarewa Rd.
Northpower workers were clearing scrub on a new subdivision in Morningside when they discovered clothing and skeletal remains.
Sun Il Keum went missing 14 years ago and now his remains have been discovered.