South Korea has had an increasing anti-American element after an American army truck struck and killed two Korean teenagers last June. South Koreans have also demonstrated against the United States' presence in Iraq and in South Korea.
Sellers told his brothers April 14 that the mugging was the last straw and that he had bought a plane ticket to come home permanently on Saturday, April 19.
But the morning of April 19, he was picked up by police for climbing into the back seat of someone's car. Details about why Sellers was in the car, whose car it was and why police took him into custody have remained unclear because the police officer at the scene has been on vacation since the incident. But Sellers' brother, Oliver Sellers, said he wonders if his brother was being chased or threatened.
Police kept Sellers in their custody for the day, telling the embassy that they had a homeless, mentally ill man in their care. The embassy told the police to take him to the hospital or let him go. Police then took him to the hospital, where hospital workers sedated and restrained him.
Early Sunday hospital staff noted that Sellers' breathing was fast and his pulse was racing. He was sent to a different hospital for blood tests. He died en route to the second hospital.
The Joongang Ilbo ran a long story online on May 24, 2003, that reported Sellers was taken to a number of mental hospitals after climbing into the back of a stranger's car. An excerpt:
It was about 1:45 p.m on April 19, when Mr. Sellers arrived at Eunpyeong hospital. Park Jong-ik, the psychiatrist in charge of Mr. Sellers at the hospital, says, “Mr. Sellers did not have any external injuries. His death seems to have nothing to do with such a thing as anti-American sentiment.” After being injected with sedatives, Mr. Sellers reportedly was tranquilized. Mr. Robinson says that another friend who saw Mr. Sellers lying on the bed in the hospital said that he was sleeping and looked all right.
The next day, at approximately 3 p.m., Dr. Park noticed that Mr. Sellers’s condition was turning unstable. “Mr. Sellers’ vital signs started to dip ― it was something other than a psychiatric symptom. Mr. Sellers started to complain of a breathing problem. We needed to run tests to determine what was happening, which was not possible at this hospital because it specializes in mental problems.” About 5 p.m., Dr. Park transferred Mr. Sellers to Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center, a general hospital in central Seoul. While he was en route to that hospital in an ambulance, at about 5:20 p.m. on April 20, Mr. Sellers’s heart stopped beating.
An autopsy was performed April 22 by the National Institute of Scientific Investigation, and though the final results have not officially been released, it’s known that the cause of death is listed as “unknown.” Choi Yeong-geun, a detective in charge at the Gangnam precinct, says, “One thing’s for sure: He did not have a traumatic injury. The lack of an external wound is a sign that there is no suspicion of murder, which brings the case to the end, when confirmed.”
Ms. Love received word from the U.S. Embassy that her brother was given an injection of a mixture of Valium and Haldol against his will at Eunpyeong hospital. Valium is used to treat mildly anxious patients, as well as to help control epilepsy and alcohol addiction. Haldol, or haloperidol, is a prescription medicine indicated for use in management of psychotic disorders. A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy says, “We’ve got preliminary reports of the autopsy, and we’re still working on the case.”
A subsequent Birmingham News article notes that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was looking into the case, and a May 18, 2003, article summarizes the events of April 19. An excerpt:
Saying he was mentally ill and homeless, the police took him to a psychiatric hospital, where he was restrained and sedated using anti-psychotic drugs. The hospital noted traces of marijuana in a urine sample. The next day, according to hospital records, Sellers had rapid breathing and pulse. En route to another hospital in an ambulance, he died.
On January 25, 2004, someone identifying themselves as Matthew's sister made a comment on the now-defunct War Liberal blog. Here is an excerpt of the update she gave:
My name is Lee Love; I am one of Matthew Sellers' sisters. Please know our family has not stopped seeking answers about our brother's death. I can update a couple of facts-the Institute for Scientific Investigation S. Korea has refused to issue any further details about Matthew's death. We were always told there would be a "final" autopsy pending further tests, now through the US State Department we are told they have been notified we are to consider the initial "preliminary" autopsy final. Cause of death remains unknown. The Koreans did not send his vital organs home for a detailed secondary autopsy. We would like to know what they did with them. Also to clear up the speculation about drugs or alcohol, Matt was found to have a "scant amount of marijuana in his urine" nothing else. No alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines or anything of the like. All the self-inflicted death speculation should stop. He did not cause his own death, the end. I want to tell you there is tangible concern Matthew's death has been downplayed to the point of cover-up by the US and the Koreans.
Our family was required to send $6,000.00 in order for Matthew's body to be sent home for burial, we were informed he would not be released until certain other bills were cleared up. Matthew had some money left in Seoul; here is how the US Embassy decided to disburse it. Matthew?s money paid the costs incurred by the "hospital" that killed him, the transport that took him to Samsung Hospital where they have real doctors, the storage charges for his body ($100.00 a day until the Korean Medical Examiner could perform an autopsy) and the autopsy itself. About that autopsy -- the Koreans insisted it must be performed in accordance with their law when a person dies while arrested and of no apparent reason ? even without family consent or notification. There were other incidentals which Matthew's money was used for. Over $1,200.00 was charged to send Matt's belongings gathered from his apartment by friends, this amounted to a large box and another box with very few contents.
Our State Department is not forthcoming with any information about an investigation into Matthew's death. My brothers have requested a meeting with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby sometime during the month January or February 2004. We want to lay out the facts we have gathered aspect by aspect. Evidence dictates clearly someone knows what happened to Matthew but no one wants to be accountable. The Korean Police say they turned everything over to the US Embassy, the US Embassy say the police are not cooperating -- which one is lying? The Embassy refused to help Matthew when they were called upon repeatedly - by the police, Matt?s friends and Matthew himself.
There's a lot of reading to do on the case (in particular the original Dave's thread and this collection of newspaper articles), and I haven't yet come close to making it through all of it. And there must be more news out there since that January, 2004 update.
Anyway I've posted all of this because, actually, the name Matthew Sellers did look familiar and I knew I had seen it somewhere recently. So I revisited the initial Korea Times article on Bill Kapoun:
Matthew Sellar, a part-time teacher at an elementary school in Seoul, said that the terrible situation could happen to other foreigners as well. ``The fact that William was uninsured is indicative of the larger issue that many foreign English teachers do not have insurance,’’ he said. ``I wish it was easier for foreigners to report illegal activities without fear of being fired, deported, or arrested. I love Korea. I love teaching my students.’’
The name is a little different, but it's almost, kind of, a strange coincidence connecting these two suspicious deaths of Americans in South Korea. Let's hope that, after all of the fundraisers have stopped and the sense of urgency has waned, that the foreign "community" down here again unites to push for a complete investigation of the fire that killed Kapoun and his girlfriend.