Family seeks answers but US has no news on soldier who ran into North Korea

Travis King. (Photo/Reuters)

The United States has said it has no fresh news on the US soldier who left a tour of the demilitarised zone and ran into North Korea, in a bizarre incident that has baffled authorities in Washington.

US officials have identified the soldier as Private Second Class Travis King, who broke away from a South Korean orientation visit in the border Panmunjon truce village on Tuesday and raced over the frontier where it is believed he was taken into custody by North Korean officials.

Little is known about the serviceman's motive or present status in the reclusive nation.

"We here at the State Department, and the UN, are all continuing to work together on this matter to ascertain information about the well-being and whereabouts of Private King," said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Wednesday.

King, who earlier was in the process of being sent back to the United States over disciplinary problems, somehow got to Panmunjon and crossed the border "wilfully and without authorisation", US officials said.

Miller said the State Department was continuing to gather information on the case, but knew nothing of his current condition.

"I want to be very clear that the administration has and will continue to actively work to ensure his safety and return him home to his family," he said.

He said the Pentagon has reached out to contacts in the North Korean military for information on King's situation, but there had not been a response.

Miller said Washington, which does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, has other channels to communicate.

He mentioned that the State Department is engaging counterparts in South Korea and Sweden to find out information on King.

US media said King broke away at an airport as he was being escorted home for disciplinary reasons.

According to South Korean police, King had spent around two months in a local prison on assault charges and was released on July 10.

Family members worried

King's family said on Wednesday that he may have felt overwhelmed as he faced legal troubles and his possible looming discharge from the military.

They described him as a quiet loner who did not drink or smoke and enjoyed reading the Bible.

After growing up in southeast Wisconsin, he was excited about serving his country in South Korea. Now King's family is struggling to understand what changed before he dashed into a country with a long history of holding Americans and using them as bargaining chips.

"I can’t see him doing that intentionally if he was in his right mind," King's maternal grandfather, Carl Gates, told The Associated Press.

King's uncle, Myron Gates, questioned whether his nephew was experiencing a mental problem. "I don’t understand why he would do that, because it seemed like he was on his way back here to the United States," Myron Gates said.

"He was on his way home."

Another relative said King was despondent over the recent loss of a young cousin.

Lakeia Nard said King was close with her seven-year-old son, King'nazier Gates, who died in February of a rare genetic disease.

King's mother, Claudine Gates, told reporters outside her Racine, Wisconsin, home that all she cares about is bringing her son home.

"I just want my son back," she said in a video posted by Milwaukee television station WISN. "Get my son home."


Source: TRT