The first American to be imprisoned in the North in almost five years is a soldier who spent almost two months in a South Korean prison before escaping across the heavily guarded border into North Korea. Travis King, a Private 2nd Class, was released on July 10 after being held on assault-related allegations.
He was supposed to board a jet and be flown back to Fort Bliss, Texas, but instead, he went and joined a tour of Panmunjom, a town on the Korean border, where he allegedly ran across the border, according to American officials.
His arrest happened as the United States deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades and as North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern sea early on Wednesday.
His mother, however, has stepped forward to refute accusations that he was running away and said she desperately wants her son to come home. Gates continued by saying she could not imagine her son intentionally escaping and crossing into North Korea. King, 23, was escorted through customs after being brought to the airport, according to officials.
He departed the airport and subsequently took a tour of the Korean border town of Panmunjom instead of boarding the aircraft. On Tuesday afternoon, local time in Korea, he dashed across the border, which is patrolled by guards and frequently crowded with tourists.
After King’s family was made aware of the incident, the Army revealed his name and a few other details. However, because due to the sensitivity of the situation, a number of U.S. officials gave further information under the condition of anonymity. It was unclear how he arrived at the border or how he passed the time between leaving the airport on Monday and entering the country the following day.