The story begins when, on February 10, 2021 — in the city of Gumi in the North Gyeongsang Province of Korea, the local police force discovered a body of a three-year-old baby girl. Estimated to have passed away six months ago, the baby girl’s body had become completely “mummified” in the apartment unit where she was found.

gumi police
Gumi Police Station | The Korea Times

The police got dispatched to the premise when the baby girl’s maternal grandmother Seok and grandfather (Seok’s husband) visited the unit — right above their residence.

Seok went upstairs to Kim’s unit after getting a phone call from the landlord who couldn’t reach Kim. The landlord relayed the message that Kim’s lease agreement for the unit has expired and that she needs to move out. There, Seok and her husband initially found the baby girl’s dead body and got the police involved.

Actors re-creating the events of February 10, 2021. | MBC

According to the police investigation and the Korean media reports which followed, it was actually Kim, her ex-husband Hong, and the baby girl who lived in this unit together until the parents got divorced in April 2020.

building
The said apartment building. | Joongang Ilbo

In an interview, Hong claimed that Kim was pregnant with another man’s baby when the divorce took place. Their marriage fell apart when Kim became less interested in taking care of the baby girl and Hong became more suspicious of Kim having an affair. At the time of the divorce, Hong asked Kim to raise the baby girl until he became stable enough to take custody of the baby girl — and Kim had agreed.

Hong’s interview via MBC’s “True Stories.” | MBC

Further investigation revealed, however, that Kim completely neglected the baby girl of any parental care. By May 20, 2020, the 22-year-old Kim had failed to pay five consecutive months’ worth of electricity bills and the service had been disconnected. In August 2020, Kim actually moved out of this unit to live with her new husband. And at this point, Kim decided to leave the baby girl behind in the unit. Completely abandoned by her mother, the baby girl is thought to have starved to death.

Reportedly, when the grandparents and the police found the baby girl’s body, it remained relatively intact because the unit — closed off for months without electricity — remained extremely dry and cold and the decomposition had not fully taken place.

baby girl 2
The late baby girl. | Hankyung

The police has since tracked Kim down and arrested her for child neglect.

kim
Kim being arrested by the police. | Yonhap News

The strangest turn of events began on March 10, 2021, when the police received the DNA test results meant to verify that the baby girl is indeed Kim’s. While the baby girl and Kim shared some genetics to link them as family, the National Forensic Service (NFS) concluded that Kim is not the biological mother. In fact, the test revealed that Hong (Kim’s ex-husband) is not the biological father either.

So then… who gave birth to the baby girl? After administering more DNA tests on all parties involved, the police and the NFS revealed that the 48-year-old Seok is actually the biological mother (and not the grandmother) of the baby girl.

seok
Seok being arrested by the police. | Yeongnam Ilbo

Seok, who had given birth around the same time as Kim, swapped her child with Kim’s and made Kim raise what is technically Kim’s younger sister as Kim’s daughter. The police stated, “While Seok insists that the test result is incorrect, there is no way the NFS’s conclusion is incorrect — as the DNA samples have been tested four separate times for ultimate precision.

In fact, these DNA test results further revealed that the grandfather, Seok’s husband, is not the biological father of the baby girl. This means Seok conceived the baby girl outside her marriage. Since then, two men have been additionally tested and both were found not to be the baby girl’s biological fathers. The police continue to investigate Seok’s contacts to narrow it down to the actual biological father.

family tree
The family tree, translated by Koreaboo. | theqoo

On the other hand, the whereabouts of Kim’s biological baby who “got swapped” remains unknown.

From the investigation it became known that Seok and Kim fell apart when Kim walked out on the family in her late teens. Around 2019, Kim became pregnant with her ex-husband Hong’s baby. Seok became aware of Kim’s pregnancy closer to Kim’s due date. Shortly after, Kim gave birth and checked in to a postpartum center to recover — while Seok looked after the newborn. Police suspect the “swapping” of the babies could have happened at this point. Since then, Kim has raised the baby girl thinking she is the biological daughter — until the abandonment in August 2020.

baby girl
The late baby girl. | Hankyung

Kim is reported to have confessed that she “did not like the baby girl because she came from Hong.” The authorities have grounds to believe that Kim may not have been aware that the babies were switched, though they will continue to investigate considering all possibilities and looking into every detail. Korean media Yonhap News reported that a profiler has been assigned to the case for a more in-depth analysis of what happened.

Meanwhile, Korea is mourning the tragic loss of the baby girl. As child neglect and abuse cases continue to pour out of Korea one after another, Koreans push for heavier sentences when it comes to “unfit” parents.