US Soldier Travis King crossed the border from South to North Korea in an alleged attempt to defect from the Army after experiencing “inhumane treatment” and “racism” during his military service.
The Private 2nd Class had passed through airport security when he was sent home from South Korea for disciplinary reasons. Somehow he still managed to leave the airport and join a civilian tour of the demilitarized zone near the North Korean border.
As he left the tour group behind, he reportedly laughed loudly, fled and surrendered to North Korean forces.
For months no one heard or saw the soldier. The United Nations command reached out to the country for information, but they simply “confirmed” their request.
Officials remained silent until they received information from a North Korean television station, KCNA, which said they had completed the investigation into Mr. King’s “illegal crossing.”
There was renewed silence about Mr. King’s status until it was announced on September 27 that the soldier was now back in U.S. custody.
Here’s everything we know about Travis King and his adventure in one of the most mysterious authoritarian states in the world:
King’s attacking problems in South Korea
Mr. King has served as a reconnaissance specialist since 2021. As part of his rotation, he was in South Korea.
On May 24, he was sentenced to more than 40 days in a labor camp at the Cheonan Correctional Facility, which housed U.S. military personnel and other foreigners who had committed crimes in South Korea.
He was held for assault, which earned him military disciplinary action in the United States.
When Mr. King was released on July 10, officials booked him on a return flight to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he faced punishment for his actions abroad.
However, this would not be the end of Mr. King’s time outside the United States, as although he passed airport security, he escaped his flight and evaded US military police at Incheon Airport.
Bryce Dubee, an Army spokesman, shared the following information about Mr. King: “PV2 Travis T. King has been a 19D (Cavalry Scout) in the Regular Army since January 2021. He has no stakes. During his rotation in the Korean Armed Forces, he was originally assigned to 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team and 1st Armored Division and is currently assigned administratively to 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team and assigned to the 4th Infantry Division. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal and the Overseas Service Ribbon.”
King crossed the military demarcation line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
He had joined a group on a tour of the Joint Security Zone – the border village in the DMZ that separates the two Koreas and is closely guarded by soldiers from both sides.
The UN command said in a statement: “A US national crossed the military demarcation line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) without authorization while on an orientation tour to the JSA (Joint Security Area).”
Authorities said that “we are working with colleagues from the KPA (North Korean Army) to investigate this incident.”
According to the local press, a foreigner crossed the border at 3:27 p.m. local time [0627 GMT].
said Colonel Isaac Taylor of United States Forces Korea Public Affairs The Independent by the time: “A member of the U.S. Armed Forces intentionally and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) while on a JSA orientation tour. We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA colleagues to resolve this incident.”
“This man lets out a loud ‘ha ha ha’ and just runs between some buildings.”
One person said they witnessed what happened and took part in the tour with the US soldier CBS News that they had been visiting one of the buildings in the area when “this man lets out a loud ‘ha ha ha’ and just walks between some buildings.”
“At first I thought it was a bad joke, but when he didn’t come back I realized it wasn’t a joke and then everyone reacted and things went crazy,” they told the outlet.
The DMZ, one of the most heavily fortified places in the world, is full of landmines, surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences and surveillance cameras.
The witness told the broadcaster that no North Korean soldiers were seen where the man ran, adding that he had been told that there had been no soldiers there since the pandemic, when North Korea tried to completely close its borders had been.
The witness said that after the man crossed the border, the tour group was taken to Freedom House to testify and then taken to their bus.
“Inhumane abuse and racial discrimination within the US Army”
The renegade US soldier had disappeared into the depths of the authoritarian state. No one had heard from or seen Mr. King for about a month.
The United Nations Command attempted to obtain information from North Korea and was “noted” but received very few details.
Until his photo was broadcast on a North Korean television station, state news agency KCNA said he was in the care of Korean People’s Army soldiers.
They said Korean officials would conduct an investigation into Mr. King’s entry into their country.
“During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he decided to emigrate to the DPRK because he harbored an aversion to inhumane mistreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army,” state news agency KCNA said last month.
US soldier entered North Korea “without authorization,” defense minister confirms
The DPRK exposes Mr. King’s attempts to seek refuge in their country
On September 27, state news agency KCNA announced that they would deport Mr. King after his “illegal” entry into the country.
Pyongyang claimed that the investigation into why Mr. King entered its country without permission had been completed.
They said their findings revealed that he attempted to seek refuge in the country “because of inhumane treatment by the U.S. military, antipathy toward racism, and disillusionment with unequal U.S. society.”
King was transferred to US custody
Travis King is in American custody after being detained in North Korea
Shortly after the KCNA announcement, US officials said the kidnapped soldier was now back in American custody after being turned over to US authorities in China, an anonymous US official said.
He is the first known American to be held in North Korea in nearly five years.
While there are very few cases of Americans or South Koreans migrating to the North, more than 30,000 North Koreans are believed to have crossed the border to the South since the 1950s.
Washington has banned American nationals from entering North Korea “due to the continued high risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals.”
“The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in North Korea because it does not have diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea,” the U.S. travel advisory for North Korea said.
The ban was implemented after American college student Otto Warmbier was arrested by the North in 2015 while traveling through the country. He died in 2017, just days after being released from prison and returning to the United States in a coma.
The family has different opinions about what happened to King
Following the news that Mr. King would be deported from North Korea, Johnathan Franks, a spokesman for Mr. King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said she “will be forever grateful to the U.S. Army and all of its interagency partners for a job well done.”
He added that the soldier’s family had asked for privacy and that Ms. Gates “does not plan to give interviews.”
But before the soldier was found, other family members expressed their opinions about why Mr. King would have defected to North Korea.
Myron Gates, Mr. King’s uncle, said his nephew experienced racism during his time in the U.S. military and after spending time in a South Korean prison he no longer sounded like himself, ABC reports.
He revealed it too The Daily Beast that Mr King had already “broken down” after learning that his six-year-old cousin, Mr Gates’ son, had died of a rare genetic disorder, SPTLC 2.
“When my son was on life support and when my son died…Travis started [being] ruthless [and] “It was crazy when he knew my son was going to die,” he said.
However, Jaqueda Gates, Mr. King’s sister, said his hasty escape to North Korea just didn’t sound like something he would do.
“My brother, he’s not the type to get into trouble like that. It all sounds made up,” Ms. Gates told NBC News after explaining that she had spoken to him on the phone just two days earlier.