On Tuesday morning, March 26, 1991, schools and offices in the Daegu region of South Korea were deserted. Workers, teachers, and students were on holiday due to the local elections. Seizing the opportunity, six elementary school students, known as The Frog Boys (U Cheol-won, Jo Ho-yeon, Kim Yeong-gyu, Park Chan-in, Kim Jong-sik, and Tae-Ryong Kim), embarked on an adventure to Mount Waryong to search for salamander eggs. Little did they know that this innocent outing would turn into a tragic mystery that would grip the nation.
As the afternoon turned to evening, The Frog Boys failed to return, causing immediate concern among their parents. Local residents joined the search, disputing initial police assumptions that the children were lost. They argued that the area was well-lit, and even a tourist could easily find their way home. The disappearance initially garnered little attention amid the local election results but gained national prominence seven days later.
On May 4, 1991, a news program called “The Square of Public Opinions” aired, attempting to bridge communication between those who knew the whereabouts of The Frog Boys and their families. Unfortunately, no breakthrough emerged. Adding to the distress, a prank call during the program claimed to be one of the missing boys, further disappointing the parents.
Eleven years later, on September 26, 2002, the skeletal remains of The Frog Boys were discovered buried on Mount Waryong by a hiker searching for oak seeds. Forensic analysis by Professor Chae Jong-min and the Korea Alpine Federation suggested that the boys had been shot, supported by bullet holes found in one of the skulls. The area was previously a military shooting range, although the military denied involvement, citing a holiday on the day of the incident.
While the military argued that the boys likely died from hypothermia, forensic experts contested this claim, asserting that bodies exposed to the elements would not be buried underground. Witnesses also reported hearing gunshots and cries on the day the boys went missing, further deepening the mystery.
Na Ju-bong played a crucial role in the search efforts, mobilizing local communities and establishing the National Organization for Finding Missing Children and Families. Despite financial challenges, Na Ju-bong’s organization contributed to the broader movement for missing children. His advocacy led to legislative changes, including an extension of the investigation period and the recognition of missing children under 18.
In 2005, South Korea revised its laws regarding missing children, classifying individuals under 18 as missing and extending the investigation period to 25 years. Na Ju-bong continued his efforts, urging the government to address cases of missing adults. His actions inspired the formation of similar organizations, including the Finding a Missing Child Association of Korea and the National Missing Family Association.
The tragic tale of The Frog Boys remains a haunting mystery, but it sparked a movement for change in South Korea’s approach to missing persons cases. The dedication of individuals like Na Ju-bong and the collaboration between the public and private sectors showcase the power of collective action in addressing social issues. The legacy of The Frog Boys lives on through ongoing efforts to find missing individuals and improve awareness and legislation surrounding disappearances.