The family of a soldier who "willfully and without authorization" crossed into North Korea have broken their silence about their concerns for his safety.
According to CBS News, Pvt. 2nd Class Travis King joined a group of tourists who were visiting the Joint Security Area in a “peach village" known as Panmunjom when he crossed the border and is now being held in custody in North Korea. According to the report, he is believed to be the first US soldier to cross into North Korea since 1982.
King's mother shared on Wednesday (July 19) that she was “shocked” to learn that her son is being held in North Korean custody after crossing the border after being notified by a US Army official on Tuesday (July 18).
"I can't see Travis doing anything like that," Claudine Gates told ABC News.
Gates also noted that the last time she spoke to King was "a few days ago," when he said he was heading back to his base in Fort Bliss, TX.
“It’s out of his character,” Myron Gates, King’s uncle added. “I’ve never seen him get down like that, ever. Something’s going on. This is not his personality.”
Carl Gates, another uncle of King, said his nephew has been grieving since his cousin 6-year-old King’Nazir Gates died from a rare genetic disorder in February.
“He’s still grieving, and that had a lot to do with what he did,” Carl Gates explained.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that King was being detained in North Korea.
"We're very early in this event and so there's a lot that we're still trying to learn," Austin told reporters on Tuesday. "We believe that he is in DPRK custody. We're closely monitoring and investigating the situation, and working to notify the soldier's next of kin and engaging to address this incident."
"In terms of my concerns, I'm absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troop, and so we will remain focused on this," Austin added.
Admiral John Aquilino, who leads the US Indo-Pacific Command, said that King “made a run across the demilitarized zone in the Joint Security Area, was picked up by the North Koreans, and we’ve had no contact at this point.”
The Demilitarized Zone or DMZ that separates North and South Korea is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. In 1953, the DMZ was formed at the end of the Korean War when an armistice was signed. While the countries are still technically at war, the DMZ “ensures the demarcation between them remains peaceful.” Currently, the United States maintains a large troop presence in South Korea and considers the country an ally.
Before crossing the North Korean border, King had a history of insubordination and was facing disciplinary action over his conduct during his military tenure. Previously, he spent 47 days in a South Korean jail on assault charges following allegations that he kicked the door of a police patrol car and shouted expletives at officers. Last September, he reportedly punched a civilian in the face repeatedly at a club in Seoul.
Per sources close to the situation, King was headed back to the US the day before the incident transpired after being “administratively separated” from the US Army.
Since he enlisted in the Armed Services in 2021, King received three medals for his service: the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal, and the Overseas Service Ribbon.
Each medal is commonly bestowed on American military personnel who serve in Korea.