Teenage assailant of ruling party lawmaker claims attack was accidental

January 26, 2024

The teenage assailant of ruling party lawmaker Bae Hyun-jin has claimed that his attack was accidental, saying he had been waiting to be admitted to a hospital for worsening depression, police officials said Friday.

The 15-year-old boy was detained Thursday afternoon shortly after attacking Bae of the ruling People Power Party with a rock the size of an adult man’s fist in Seoul’s southern district of Gangnam for unclear reasons.

Bae, a television news anchor-turned-lawmaker, was struck on the head 15 times. She was taken to Soonchunhyang University Hospital and had her bleeding wound stapled. She remains hospitalized there.

Police questioned the suspect in the presence of his guardian the previous day, and collected his mobile phone and social media history to determine the exact motive behind the crime.

During the investigation, the suspect told the police that he left home about two hours before the incident, bumped into Bae and accidentally committed the attack, according to police officials.

He reportedly said he had been waiting, at a doctor’s order, to be admitted to a closed psychiatric ward due to a depression relapse.

He also said he was habitually carrying the rock with him.

According to people with knowledge of his background, the boy had an issue at his school since early last year, and had been diagnosed with and treated for a bipolar disorder at a hospital.

Early Friday, police put him under “emergency hospitalization,” citing his age and health conditions.

“The suspect’s status as a minor and his current health conditions were taken into consideration,” a police official said, adding police plan to thoroughly look into his crime, including the motive.

Under the emergency hospitalization system, individuals with suspected mental illness can be put into a mental hospital for a maximum duration of three days over the urgent risk of inflicting harm on themselves or others.

Police plan to look into his mobile phone history and accounts from people around him by the weekend to verify his claims. With his guardian’s consent, the police plan to question him at the hospital after the emergency hospitalization period ends.

Police visited Bae at the hospital to ask questions about the circumstances of the attack, and Bae told the investigators during the 1 1/2-hour questioning that she wants the assailant to be punished, officials close to the lawmaker said.

This image, provided by People Power Party lawmaker Bae Hyun-jin's office, shows the scene of the attack on her in Seoul on Jan. 25, 2024. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This image, provided by People Power Party lawmaker Bae Hyun-jin’s office, shows the scene of the attack on her in Seoul on Jan. 25, 2024. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The police formed a 27-strong investigation team, led by the chief of the Gangnam Police Station, to take charge of the assault case and announced plans to step up safety protection for key politicians.

In addition to the current “close distance safety protection team” working for the leaders of the ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party, the police will also deploy a protection team for Lee Jun-seok and Lee Nak-yon, who lead their respective newly formed parties.

A total of 36 police squads nationwide will also be designated as special protection forces to cover political parties’ public events, officials said.