The mother of a US soldier detained in North Korea after speeding across the border has spoken for the first time in weeks, saying her son’s life is in “danger” as his whereabouts remain a mystery.
Claudine Gates, the mother of 23-year-old soldier Travis King, told ABC on Wednesday that her life has turned into a “big nightmare” since her son ran into the lonely country and was not heard from again.
Travis wouldn’t cross the border like this. He is the kind of kid that he would have wanted to come home with,” he said. “He knew that just crossing the border is basically committing suicide.”
Private King, 23, sped into North Korea on July 18 while on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border and was promptly detained, leading the US to a new diplomatic dilemma with North Korea, which has nuclear weapons. He recently was released from a South Korean jail and he was supposed to inform the United States when he apparently defected.
Gates said she had been fighting before her disappearance, but refused to believe her son would cross the border willingly.
Claudine Gates, the mother of 23-year-old soldier Travis King, told ABC on Wednesday that her life “turned into a ‘big nightmare’ because of what happened to her son.”
King ran into North Korea on July 18 while on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border and was promptly detained.
His mother spoke for the first time in weeks, saying her son’s life is in “danger” as his whereabouts remain a mystery.
North Korea confirmed it is holding Travis King on Wednesday in its first confirmation on the soldier’s condition, the UN Command said.
The UN Command said it would not elaborate on Pyongyang’s response at this time. His exact location within North Korea and his current state of health have not been disclosed.
King, who was serving in South Korea, spent 47 days in a South Korean jail after an altercation with locals at a bar and was released in June. He was expected to board a plane back to Texas, but he fled. He later mingled with a group of tourists before speeding across the border.
The family denied claims that King was drunk at the bar that led to his initial arrest, saying King did not drink and often withdrew at family events where alcohol was served.
They said that while in South Korea, King began leaving them cryptic messages by phone and text.
He allegedly sent song links that served as coded messages to explain how he was not in a good place. The messages concerned her family for her well-being and aroused suspicion.
They said their strange communication made them believe they might be talking to a different person entirely or that King was in deep trouble.
His mother recalled one night when she was awakened by a disturbing call from her son, who repeatedly yelled into the phone, “I’m not the Army soldier you want me to be” before hanging up.
Claudine said that it has not been able to function properly since her son’s captivity.
“I can’t function, I can’t think straight,” he said. “Once night comes, I start to worry more because I don’t know what they are doing to her.”
King (wearing a black shirt and black cap) is seen in this image taken during a tour of the strictly controlled Joint Security Area on the inter-Korean border shortly before meeting North Korea.
King spent 47 days in a South Korean jail after an altercation with locals at a bar and was released in June.
King in custody Wednesday in his first response to requests for information about the whereabouts of the US soldier.
His family cannot understand why King would voluntarily cross the border into North Korea.
“That’s not Travis,” her mother said. Travis wouldn’t cross the border like this. He is the kind of kid who would have wanted to come home.
King also said he was experiencing racism abroad, telling his family: “They’re trying to kill me.”
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said North Korea only acknowledged the UN Command’s request for information on King and did not provide detailed information about him.
“I can confirm that the DPRK has responded to the United Nations Command, but I don’t have any substantive progress to read,” Ryder told a news conference, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
While it’s a promising sign that North Korea has finally responded, it’s unclear how long the “investigation” might take.