The mother of a US soldier who dramatically defected to North Korea appeared on his doorstep tearfully begging him to come home.
Speaking on the front porch of her home in Racine, Wisconsin, Claudine Gates, the mother of Travis King, expressed concern for her son’s well-being.
‘I just want my son back. I just want my son back. Take my son home. Take my son home. And he prays. Pray for him to come back,’ Gates told the local television station. WISN.
When asked for the latest on her son’s condition, she had no additional information. “I have nothing more to say at this time,” she said.
Speaking from his home in Racine, Wisconsin, he expressed his desire to get his son back and urged people to pray for his well-being.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she was “concerned” about 23-year-old Private 2nd Class Travis King and how the brutal North Korean regime will treat him.
A group of tourists stands near a border station at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, on Tuesday. Not long after this photo was taken, Travis King, a US soldier, crossed the border, becoming the first American detained north in nearly five years.
King had just been released from a South Korean detention center on Monday after being charged with assault in two separate incidents, as well as damaging a police car.
“From what I know, I just heard that he, I guess, had a fight with some Koreans,” King’s uncle Myron Gates said.
And it was kind of hard, you know, to believe in that too. Like, someone had to push him to do that because he’s not a violent type of person.
Myron and Carl Gates, King’s grandfather, said they were both confused and concerned for King’s well-being.
‘I was really surprised. I found out from my little niece, she had sent me a link and I read her name, Travis King. I’m like, huh? She just baffled me,” Myron Gates said.
‘I think something is wrong with him. He is not thinking straight. I don’t think he just runs like that. I can’t see that,’ Carl Gates said.
“Someone had to push him to do that because he’s not a violent person,” said Myron Gates, uncle of US soldier Travis King.
‘I think something is wrong with him. He is not thinking straight. I don’t think he just runs like that. I can’t see that,’ said King’s grandfather, Carl Gates.
Fears for King were growing on Wednesday as North Korea had yet to produce the soldier or acknowledge the incident.
King was expected to board a flight back to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he may have faced a possible discharge from the army.
He was on a civilian tour of the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday when he crossed the Military Demarcation Line that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953.
King had been fined for assault while stationed in South Korea and had been detained for more than a month before being escorted to Incheon International Airport by the US military for a commercial flight to Dallas, Texas, according to US officials.
Once he cleared security, he told airline staff at the gate that he had lost his passport and returned to the terminal, an airport official said on condition of anonymity.
US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said King “may not have been thinking straight, frankly.”
“He had assaulted an individual in South Korea and had been in South Korean government custody and was going to return to the United States and face the consequences in the military,” he said. I’m sure he was dealing with it.
Wormuth, in his first public comments on the case, said that Washington was fully mobilized to try to contact Pyongyang, including through United Nations communication channels.
But North Korea has yet to offer any response, officials said.
“Frankly, I do worry about him,” Wormuth told the Aspen Safety Forum in Colorado. He cited the case of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was jailed in North Korea for 17 months before dying shortly after returning to the United States in a coma in 2017.
King’s mother, Claudine Gates, just wants her son to return home to Wisconsin (pictured)
I worry how they will treat him. So, (we) want to get it back.’
At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also expressed concern: “This is not a country known for humane treatment of Americans, or frankly anyone else.”
US officials were stumped as to why King ran across the border into North Korea. But Wormuth acknowledged that he was probably worried about facing more Army disciplinary action upon his return to the United States.
She said she was not aware of any information showing the 23-year-old was sympathetic to North Korea, and the Pentagon has dismissed suggestions he might present intelligence liability.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the US Army’s counterintelligence office and US forces in South Korea were investigating what led King to make such a baffling decision.
Singh declined to directly answer a question about whether the Pentagon believed King was still alive. She said the US military could not provide any information on King’s condition.
We don’t know his status. We don’t know where he is being held. We don’t know the state of his health,’ Singh said, describing his formal status in the military as ‘AWOL’ or AWOL.
North Korea has remained silent on King and US officials say Pyongyang has not responded to the US military’s communication about the soldier. North Korean state media, which has reported on the detention of US citizens in the past, has not commented on the incident so far.
Speaking in Japan, US special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim said the US was “working very hard” to determine King’s status and well-being and is actively engaged in ensuring his safety and return. Kim did not provide any details.
North Korea and the United States have no formal diplomatic ties after years of international sanctions imposed on the reclusive state over its nuclear weapons and missile programs that have drawn frequent UN condemnation.
Asked if King might have been sympathetic to North Korea, Wormuth said: “I don’t think we have any information that clearly indicates that.”
King crossed the border at Panmunjom, during a tour of the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone.
The border between North and South Korea is heavily guarded.
Former President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, on June 30, 2019, the site where King made his crossing.
The Pentagon said it was not aware of any change in the freedom of movement of approximately 28,500 US forces in South Korea.
Tensions are rising on the Korean peninsula. North Korea has been conducting ballistic missile tests, the latest coinciding with the arrival of a nuclear-armed US ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for the first time since the 1980s.
Last week, North Korea launched its newest solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which it said had the longest flight time in history.
On Monday, North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong, the sister of leader Kim Jong Un and a powerful ruling party official, said the United States should stop its “foolish act” of provoking North Korea and said it was putting its security at risk.
He made his comments after White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington was concerned that North Korea would carry out another ICBM test.