Dead American’s kin seek justice

Answers elude in student's shady death in Kabukicho

by Alex Martin

Family and friends of Hoon “Scott” Kang say the 19-year-old’s death in Tokyo in August left too many questions unanswered and are seeking ways to shed more light on the case.

Kang, an American of Korean descent from Buford, Ga., was found unconscious and bleeding from severe head wounds in the early hours of Aug. 25 in an emergency stairwell in a building in Shinjuku’s seedy Kabukicho district.

Kang, who was vacationing in Japan with two other friends, died five days later after being hospitalized. He never woke from his coma.

His father, Sung Won Kang, 48, said the Japanese police initially told him that his son’s death was accidental — Kang had had too much to drink and fell down two flights of stairs, sustaining fatal head wounds.

But Kang’s father and others who examined an elevator surveillance video taken from 15 Collins Building, the high-rise containing several bars and night clubs where Kang was found, believe otherwise.

On the night of Aug. 24, Kang was drinking in a bar in Shinjuku with his two friends before he decided to take a break at around 10:30 p.m. and explore the neighborhood. He never returned.

The footage provided by the Shinjuku police was taken in the elevator shortly after 11 p.m. the same night. It showed Kang with another figure, a man wearing black pants and a black shirt.

Kang’s father said that the video showed his son raising his hands in what appeared to be a defensive gesture, immediately before the man delivered a blow to his abdomen.

“The police told me it was an accident, but I checked the video and knew this wasn’t an accident, this was murder,” Kang’s father said during a recent telephone interview with The Japan Times.

Kang was later discovered by the building’s employees at around 1:30 a.m. in the stairwell between the sixth and seventh floors, bleeding heavily from his head.

Lee Min Sook, an English teacher in Tokyo and guardian of one of Kang’s friends, recalled seeing Kang in the hospital of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Shinjuku Ward two days after the incident.

“Hoon Kang didn’t know anything, couldn’t open his eyes, he couldn’t move, he was dying,” she said. Kang passed away on Aug. 30.

Lee, who was also present at the police station with Kang’s father to view the video footage, said she saw someone punching Kang in the elevator, and Kang’s face wincing from the pain. Lee said she believes the assailant was involved in his death.

Kang’s father said that while the police initially handled the case as an accident, they informed him later that they had reopened the investigation and were exploring other possibilities.

The suspect in the elevator has apparently been identified as an employee of one of the bars in the building, but Kang’s father said he wasn’t aware of any arrests or other progress being made in the investigation.

The Shinjuku police could not be reached for comment, and a press representative for the Metropolitan Police Department said the police could not disclose any information on individual cases that hasn’t been officially announced.

Kang’s story has so far received little or no media attention in Japan, despite avid petitioning by his family and friends and coverage in U.S. media.

In late October, a television crew for “America’s Most Wanted,” a long-running show produced by the Fox Television network, visited Tokyo with Kang’s father and his close friend, Ray Wozniak, to film the story.

The episode, which aired as part of the Nov. 6 show under the title “Unknown Hoon Scott Kang Killer,” reviews the chronology of the events and interviews those involved, including Wozniak, a fellow deacon with Kang’s father at their local church in Georgia and a longtime mentor to Kang.

In e-mail interviews with The Japan Times, Wozniak said he also viewed the surveillance video when he visited the Shinjuku police with Kang’s father during the October trip, and that based on the knowledge he and others acquired, recently sent an eight-page letter dated Nov. 10 to the U.S. Embassy in Japan, listing objections to the police inquiry and asking for support.

“Scott Kang was a bright, ambitious young man with a promising future,” Wozniak said, explaining that Kang was taking a year off from college to teach English to children in South Korea to help pay for his education.

“Unfortunately, older companions on a road trip to Japan during school break led Scott to a dangerous place, and Scott wound up paying with his life,” Wozniak said.

In the letter, Wozniak mentions that he and Kang’s father were unable to receive the police report or the elevator footage on the incident because the case was still being investigated. He said they were also denied the autopsy report.

A representative from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said the investigation into Kang’s death was ongoing, and that officers from the embassy have been in contact with Kang’s family and with the police regarding the circumstances surrounding the case, but said the embassy could not comment any further.

One of Kang’s friends who was with him during the trip was reached by phone in South Korea but declined to be interviewed, saying he still felt uncomfortable speaking about his friend’s death.

Kang’s father emigrated to the U.S. in 1993 with his wife, and Kang and his younger sister received an American education.

After graduating from North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., Kang received a scholarship that allowed him to enter an international business program at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Kang was midway through his freshman year at the time of his death.

“Having seen the damning videotape of the beginning of the assault on Scott, I am convinced that he was murdered by suspect(s) that the Japanese police have identified yet have not taken into custody,” Wozniak said. “This is a case that cries out for justice.”