GI Flashback: The 2004 Shinchon Stabbing Incident

The Shinchon Stabbing Incident occurred on May 15th, 2004 when 4 GI’s and a KATUSA went and partied in the Shinchon area of Seoul one night.  The soldier with tattoos pictured below apparently was extremely drunk and walked out in front of a taxi cab when the stop light was green.  This caused a confrontation between the drunk soldier and the taxi cab driver.  During the confrontation some “concerned citizens” intervened to help the taxi driver and some heated words were exchanged.  I believe it is safe to assume that many of the “concerned citizens” who mostly were Korean college students were probably equally drunk at the time.

Is there a better propaganda picture than this for the anti-US crowd? This picture was actually staged by the “concerned citizens” at the scene to give the soldier the worst image possible in the media.

Anyway a fight broke out and nobody can really say for sure who started it, but it ultimately ended up involving all the US soldiers who were surrounded by dozens of “concerned citizens” eager to pound on some GI’s.  One of the soldiers in an effort to defend himself pulled out a pocket knife to get the attackers off of him who were choking him. In a struggle with the attackers the soldier accidentally cut the throat of the Korean student.  This pocket knife would later go on to be described in the Korean media as a military issue knife conjuring up images of some Rambo blade when in fact it was a simple pocket knife. The soldiers were eventually subdued by the mob and arrested by the police department. I had predicted at the time nothing would happen to the students and the soldier would get slammed and nobody would care. Well that is unfortunately the case.

You can actually read a detailed account of what that night from John Humphrey at this link.

shinchon stabbing2

Private John Humphrey being choked by a “concerned citizen”.

The soldier in question, Pvt. John C. Humphrey was convicted of attempted homicide after stabbing a 27-year-old man in the neck with the knife. He was given a 2 1/2 year sentence in a Korean prison.  The soldier was at first charged with simple battery since he was trying to protect himself, but due to all the misinformation in the media the charges were upgraded to attempted murder.  This case I use as a perfect example to my soldiers of what not to do in Korea. Pvt. Murphy was probably a good kid just out having a good time with his friends when things went wrong and now his life has been seriously impacted and he had to sit in prison for 2 1/2 years. The entire Shinchon area is off limits to soldiers for good reason; to prevent incidents like this from happening. Unfortunately these soldiers did not abide by this command policy.  An additional thing to keep in mind is that GI’s should not carry knives with them in Korea.  I understand in America it is common to carry a knife, but in Korea pulling a knife on someone is like pulling a gun on someone in the States.  This is considered a massive escalation of the confrontation by Korean standards.

Anyway there is a fringe minority in Korea who looks to create incidents with soldiers and drunk GIs. Harassing a taxi cab driver is just asking for trouble. Any incident in Korea between soldiers and Koreans will always end with the soldier on the losing end no matter if the Korean started it or not.  Notice that in the Shinchon Stabbing Incident that these soldiers were assaulted by the “concerned citizens”, but none of them were charged with a crime, in fact they were treated as heroes:

No matter what poor judgement the Shinchon GI did or didn’t exercise in carrying a knife with him or for using it (I wasn’t there, either, of course, there were certain hugely mitigating circumstances that call into question the notion of the “crazed American GI tearing up the streets”, which certainly should shed doubt on the Korean media’s labeling the Korean guy who did the attacking in the first place any sort of “hero”, which should call into question that hack with a toy camera – Bae Sang Beom – being a “photographer” or a “journalist”, and should definitely cast doubt as to whether Oh My News is really even a “newspaper.”

Bae Sang Beom – you’re not a “photographer” or a “witness” or a “documentarian,” nor are you journalistically honest enough to admit to yourself that you actually didn’t see (or photograph) anything but a couple of GI’s being held by a large crowd, waaaaay after the fact. Sounds familiar to me, from what I’ve seen with my own two eyes and with my own cameras.

The bottom line is that when in a confrontation with Koreans, especially went it makes the news more than likely your side of the story will never get heard and you will be demonized in the media. So the best course of action is to always keep away from situations that can turn into something that makes you out as the bad guy. Walk away from confrontations and whatever you do never use a weapon. If you are soldier reading this heed my advice and follow all command policies, they are there for a reason, so you don’t end up becoming the next Pvt. Murphy.

Note: You can read more GI Flashbacks articles by clicking on the below link: 



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. Stuff like this is inevitable — it can be minimized if more platoon sergeants, platoon leaders, and company commanders give "safety" briefings constantly, but individual incidents will inevitably happen in any large population.

    Was any consideration given to letting the guy serve his 2 1/2 years in Leavenworth? I wonder about his safety in Korean confinement (unless he's kept totally apart & isolated from the other Korean inmates). If you hear anything further about his status while in confinement & prior to your PCS, I'd be interested in reading about it.

    While I agree with you entirely as far as you go with this, an even better solution would be to pull all of you guys out of there and let the ROK assume responsibility for its own ground defense. Since the ROK has an irate minority of young guys spoiling for a nationalist-inspired fight, let them be drafted by the ROK military, who can put them on the DMZ.

  2. Believe it or not but the Korean prisons are actually a better place to spend your hard time then the American confinment facility at Camp Humphry's. The Korean prisons for Korean inmates is not very good but foreigners have their own special section and get treated very well because the Koreans do not want to be accused of human rights violations by westerners. I will have to write a post soon about this subject.

  3. I believe it — after I wrote the above I gave it some thought and realized that the last thing ROK needs is for this guy to be knifed in prison by irate Koreans.

    I hope he likes Korean food, he's going to have to get used to it. I suppose I have to say he got off easy — only 2 1/2 years for almost cutting somebody's throat.

  4. I knew the soldier who was sentenced to 2 1/2 yrs.
    I must say that he was not drunk bu the other soldiers were.
    He arrived late and did not have a chance to drink when he met up w/the sldiers who were already drinking.

    I don’t know to much about what happened, but I do know that when the fight arised he was caught up in the middle of a mobbing of angry Koreans. He had bricks thrown at him, he was punched, choked & held down…& if self-defense fearing his life he pulled out his poket knife to try & scare away them. Only in the brawl the knife was knocked out of his had & yanked away..ect..causing the accidental stabbing…

    That’s the story I gather.
    Now his family is to suffer for this too, when you put someone in jail not only does the idivual suffer , but the family as well.

    Anyone who has anymore information on this incedent or photographs/links to news articals w/photographs of PFC John C Humphreys, please post on here.


  5. Ok so I take back what I said earlier on here. The soldier, did commit the crime he was acussed of. I was lied to and learned that all charges he was given were true.

  6. i also knew the pvt humphreys VERY well (i cant say how). and that picture of the man with tattoos and bald head is DEFINITELY NOT him, he doesnt have a visible tattoo on his body as far as im aware. and unfortunately he was guilty but drunk. and the news paper covering the event was very antiamerican and biased.

  7. This is one of the involved so called GI’s involved in the incident. I was a Pfc at the time. All soldiers involved in this incident were given a BAC . Which all but one passed. Also shincheon was not off limits as of 2004. It became off limits after this incident. You can research the facts on that. Only person charged or punished was the soldier who stabbed the korean. The rest of us got slaps on the wrists and were given counselling statements with zero corrective actions. Since we were not in an off limits area or out past curfew we were all treated fairly well considering the fact. All in all it was a fucked up situation and could have turned out a lot worse. Ah yes……it’s also started because some older gentlemen outside of the bar spit in the tattooed mans face with the Mohawk. Then the older gentlemen doing the spitting was thrown threw his flower stand. That’s how the fight was started. That’s also recorded in court documents.

  8. “Then the older gentlemen doing the spitting was thrown threw his flower stand.”

    Q: How is flower ajushi like a big wet loogie?

    A: They both hit the ground after going through tulips.

    Q: How are they different?

    A: Only the ajushi rose back up.

  9. I was in Korea at the time, in Bravo company. Humphrey’s was motor pool just like me. I considered him to be very unpredictable. Smart guy though, knew some things about computers if I recall. From what I remember he wasn’t even aloud to go off post that weekend and he did anyway. You are not supposed to carry knives in Korea anyway. And to agree with a comment below, the pictured soldier is not Humphrey’s. But it does look like Humphrey’s being held down in the photo, black shirt.

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