An American soldier in his 20s has been presumably detained in North Korea after he crossed the border between the two Koreas “willfully and without authorization.”
The soldier, identified as Private 2nd Class Travis King, was recently released from prison in South Korea, where he had been jailed on assault charges against locals. After his release, he faced disciplinary action by the US military and was supposed to be sent back and report to Fort Bliss, Texas, US.
A military escort had taken King to the airport for his flight, but he couldn’t pass the security without a ticket. So, King had to be left alone to board his plane. But instead, he managed to escape the Incheon International Airport and joined a Joint Security Area (JSA) tour as a civilian.
The JSA is a part of the wider Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea, and tours of the area are open to the public and organized by the United Nations Command (UNC). Though the DMZ is one of the most heavily guarded areas in the world, the JSA has been disarmed since 2018. People have to go through several checkpoints to get to the JSA, but the actual border is just a small raised line on the ground that can be crossed with just one step.
During a JSA tour, civilians are kept about 20 yards from the border, and the South Korean side usually has guards. According to witnesses, King suddenly ran to the border while laughing loudly and then disappeared. The incident occurred on July 18, 3:27 pm, KST.
This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha’, and just runs in between some buildings. I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy.
—Witness account reporteed by CBS News
The rest of the group was reportedly escorted back to the Freedom House, where officials took their statements. The tourists were taken away from the area by bus.
According to officials in the Pentagon and State Department, the motive of the soldier to run into North Korean territory is unclear. US Army Col. Isaac Taylor, the public affairs director for US Forces Korea, told the media that they believe King is currently in DPRK’s (North Korea) custody, and the UN Command is trying to negotiate his release.
A US Service member on a JSA orientation tour willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident.
—Col. Isaac Taylor
This is the first case of an American being detained in North Korea since 2018 when Bruce Buron Lowrance was held for a month after he illegally entered the DPRK from China.