In a devastating turn of events, official statements from South Korean authorities reveal that texts and social media posts from survivors trapped inside the sinking ferry were faked.
"An investigation from the Police Cyber Terror Response Center verified that all texts in question [from passengers still within the ship] are fake," South Korea police posted on its official Twitter account.
"Please stop such actions that are causing pain to the families of missing passengers. The malicious distributors of these texts will be strictly dealt with."
Families responded with shock and anger that the texts, which included message such as "I can't see a thing...we are not dead yet," and "Dad, don't worry. I've got a life vest on," were fake.
The South Kerry ferry sank on Wednesday off South Korea's southwest coast with 475 people aboard. Officials say 28 bodies have been found and 268 are still missing.
One mother said earlier this week that the texts were so descriptive, family members were "surprised and excited," hopeful that their loved ones were still alive and waiting to be rescued.
The reports of text falsification only heightened families' devastation .
According to CNN, the texts also contributed to apprehension at Jindo, where distraught families believed them to be proof several passengers were alive. Family members shouted remonstrations and threw objects at authorities, accusing them of not doing enough to save their children.
"No one knows how to respond to this news," said one bystander, "there is so much hurt and heartache felt by all of us."
This led to remonstrations and the hurling of objects at authorities, who relatives accused of not doing enough to save their children.
South Korea has been devastated by this tragedy, and the falsified text messages added to the community's anguish. CNN reports that family members have expressed a growing sense of mistrust and confusion concerning the government's handling of the rescue operations, media coverage and releases of information.
However, government officials say they are doing all they can to track the source of the fake messages.
"We've checked over 300 phones, since some people owned more than one phone," police said, according to the Herald.
One of the fake messages was sent from a phone owned by a fifth grader in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, the Herald reports.
Police said those responsible face criminal charges, including defamation and obstruction of justice.