Korean couple didn't poison Benguet schoolchildren – prosecutors
BAGUIO, Philippines – In June 2018, a Korean pastor couple were charged of child abuse after the candies they gave away to about 40 children at the Natubleng Elementary School in Buguias, Benguet, caused vomiting and stomach cramps, sending the children to the hospital.
Last week, Benguet prosecutors cleared the two missionaries. Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Jurgenson Lagdao and Deputy Provincial Prosecutor Andres Gondayao said during the flag raising ceremony at the Benguet Capitol on January 7 that Lee In Suk, 52, and Tiehua Woom, 55, were cleared of 19 counts of child abuse.
The guardians of the Natubleng children filed the complaints against the couple after some of the children were rushed to the Atok District Hospital for food poisoning. The couple reportedly bought a bag of strawberry curls in Abatan, Buguias, and distributed them to the children last June 27.
Blood samples from the children were submitted to the Department of Health-Cordillera for laboratory examination. Sulfhemoglobin, a greenish pigment formed by the reaction of hemoglobin with a sulfide which presumably caused poisoning, was not present in all the specimen.
Methemoglobin, which is sometimes found in the blood after certain poisonings, was also not detected in 8 blood samples while it was detected in 5, although the level was within the normal range. The test result also indicated negative for bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
“Although some coliform and Staphylococcus aureus were found, this does not indicate the presence of the toxin. At most, they suggest contamination of bacteria during the processing, handling, or storing of candies. Surely, in the absence of convincing evidence, respondents cannot be particularly blamed for such contamination as they only brought the candies from a retail store,” the decision of prosecutors read.
So what caused the alleged poisoning?
One angle points to mass hysteria. This is defined also as "conversion disorder," in which a person has physiological symptoms affecting the nervous system in the absence of a physical cause of illness, and which may appear in reaction to psychological distress.
Professor Simon Wessley, in his article on mass hysteria, said that there are 5 considerations for such phenomenon:
Still, he suggested that in characterizing a phenomenon as an instance of mass hysteria, we should aim to guide ourselves by 5 principles:
- That "it is an outbreak of abnormal illness behavior that cannot be explained by physical disease"
- That "it affects people who would not normally behave in this fashion"
- That "it excludes symptoms deliberately provoked in groups gathered for that purpose," such as when someone intentionally gathers a group of people and convinces them that they are collectively experiencing a psychological or physiological symptoms
- That "it excludes collective manifestations used to obtain a state of satisfaction unavailable singly, such as fads, crazes, and riots"
- That "the link between the [individuals experiencing collective obsessional behavior] must not be coincidental," meaning, for instance, that they are all part of the same close-knit community.
A psychologist at the Saint Louis University said that the descriptions from the Natubleng case is not enough to conclude that mass hysteria occurred but it is a big possibility. – Rappler.com