Army deserter Travis King was confirmed to be back in US custody on Wednesday, just hours after North Korea announced it would “expel” him.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed that “US officials have secured the return of Private Travis King” two months after the 23-year-old soldier suddenly crossed the border into Korea.
“We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team that has worked tirelessly with concern for the well-being of Private King,” Sullivan said, highlighting “the government of Sweden for its diplomatic role.”
The confirmation came just hours after North Korea announced it planned to expel the Wisconsin native, claiming he had confessed to illegally entering the Hermit Kingdom while being interrogated.
“The competent body of the [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] “We decided to expel Travis King, a US Army soldier who illegally entered the territory of the DPRK, in accordance with Republic law,” the announcement said.
King was transferred to China, where he was taken into American custody in a rare example of cooperation between the nations.
However, although it helped remove King from North Korea, China did not play a “mediating role” in the process, a US official told CNN.
North Korea confirmed that US soldier Travis King is detained in the country.
At noon Wednesday, the door of King’s mother’s Wisconsin home, Claudine Gates’ Racine, had a sign reading: “We will not be answering questions at this time! Please respect our privacy!
The front porch was also decorated with an American flag, which was hung with the blue field on the viewer’s right side, which is technically a violation of the American code.
“EM Gates will be eternally grateful to the United States military and all his interagency partners for a job well done,” family spokesman Jonathan Franks wrote in a statement.
King (with the black hat) was seen touring the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea before crossing the border. AP Photo/Sarah Jane Leslie
“For the foreseeable future, the family requests privacy and Ms. Gates has no intention of granting any interviews.”
North Korea previously claimed that the young soldier, who was facing disciplinary action following a series of controversies in South Korea, defected because he resented poor treatment and racism within US forces.
King had recently been released from a South Korean prison and was set to fly back to the U.S. when he slipped away from his military escort and was later caught on video touring the Joint Security Area, the village border in the demilitarized zone that separates the two. Korea which is guarded by soldiers from both sides, on July 18.
According to officials, King entered North Korea because he “harbored resentments against inhumane mistreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. military.”
“To our right, we hear a loud HAHAHAHA and a guy from OUR GROUP who has been with us all day runs between two of the buildings and to the other side!!” Swedish tourist Mikaela Johansson wrote about the moment the private second class, dressed in civilian clothes, ran across the border into North Korea.
US officials later confirmed that King made a “deliberate decision” to cross into the infamously isolated communist country.
A few weeks later, the Pentagon refused to grant the Wisconsin native prisoner-of-war status, but still insisted that he be “treated humanely in accordance with international law.”
King reportedly wanted to seek refuge in North Korea or another country. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
North Korea finally confirmed that King was detained in the Hermit Kingdom in mid-August and alleged that he fled there because he was “disillusioned by the unequal American society.”
At the time, the US military refused to verify the 23-year-old’s allegations of mistreatment and discrimination by senior military commanders, CBS News reported.
King’s apparent defection attempt was not his first brush with trouble: A few months before the freak lightning strike, he pleaded guilty to charges of assault and destruction of public property related to two violent incidents in Seoul in the fall of 2022, including one in which caused $460 worth of damage to a police patrol car.
He was fined $3,950 by the Seoul Western District Court and also faced disciplinary action from the US military.
King’s bewildered family said his recent behavior may be related to the death of his 7-year-old cousin, who died last winter of a rare genetic disorder.
“When my son was on life support and when my son passed away…Travis started [being] reckless [and] “He went crazy when he found out my son was about to die,” King’s uncle, Carl Gates, told the Daily Beast.
The soldier’s mother insisted that her son was loyal to the United States and deserved to return home.
“I’m so proud of him. I just want him to come home, to come back to America,” Gates told ABC News.
There is currently a travel ban on North Korea by the State Department, which was implemented when authorities detained American college student Otto Warmbier during a tour of the country in 2015.
The University of Virginia student was released and returned to the United States in a coma in 2017, and died shortly after.
With postal cables