Mother of Army Private Who Ran Into North Korea Questions the Country’s Narrative

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
August 26, 2023World News
Mother of Army Private Who Ran Into North Korea Questions the Country’s Narrative
A man walks past a television on Aug. 16, 2023, showing a news broadcast featuring a photo of U.S. soldier Travis King. King ran across the border into North Korea while part of a tour group visiting the Demilitarized Zone on South Korea's border on July 18. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

A U.S. Army private who sprinted across the border into North Korea last month has “so many reasons to come home,” his mother said Wednesday as she cast doubt on recent statements from North Korea alleging that her son, Travis King, is a willing defector.

Claudine Gates spoke to The Associated Press one week after the socialist regime’s state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the 23-year-old soldier had crossed the border with the intent to “seek refuge” from the United States.

It was the first time a North Korean source confirmed having detained the young American.

Pvt. King had just served two months in a South Korean prison for assault and was due to return to Fort Bliss, Texas, on July 18—where he could face additional military discipline, perhaps even discharge.

The young soldier never boarded the plane and instead joined a tourist excursion to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the area dividing North and South Korea, where he suddenly bolted across the border.

“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” his mother, Ms. Gates, from Racine, Wisconsin, said on Aug. 23.

According to KCNA, Mr. King said he ran into North Korea because he “harbored ill feelings against inhuman mistreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”

NTD Photo
U.S. President Joe Biden (left), and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program reporting on American soldier Travis King, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on July 22, 2023. (Ahn Young-joon/ AP Photo)

The report also claimed that King had said he “was disillusioned at the unequal American society” and had expressed his willingness to seek refuge in North Korea, or a third country for that matter.

U.S. officials last week said they were unable to verify the comments attributed to Mr. King, while White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters to “consider the source.”

Ms. Gates expressed her doubts about the KNCA reporting, adding that she had never heard her son express these kinds of sentiments.

“My son, he was proud to be American. He’s not even a racist type of person. That’s why I can’t see him saying that,” she said. But she added that “I was kind of told that he said a little something like that to his uncles” and that “their approach with him was a little different than me. I’m mom.”

Ms. Gates said she remains perplexed by her son’s actions. Birthdays are major milestones in the family, she said, and she couldn’t imagine her son willfully missing an opportunity to see her on her birthday, July 26.

NTD Photo
U.S. Army soldier Travis King appears in this unknown location. (Reuters/File Photo)

She noted that in the months before his dash across the border to North Korea, her son had become significantly less communicative than in his early days in the military.

Family members told her that the young man may have been overwhelmed by the consequences of his actions, including the legal trouble, the incarceration in South Korea, and not in the least the prospect of a potential discharge from the military.

“I’m not mad at you, Travis. I just want you to come home,” Ms. Gates said, talking directly to her son.

“He has a whole life ahead of him. He’s still a young man. I just want my baby home,” she added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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