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Mother of US soldier detained in North Korea is shocked he illegally crossed the border

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers' boots. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)

The mother of an American soldier detained in North Korea said she was shocked to learn that he “willfully” crossed over the heavily fortified border and into the secretive country.

Claudine Gates last spoke to her son, Private 2nd Class Travis King, “a few days” before he raced into communist North Korea. He had been stationed in South Korea and joined a tour of the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries Tuesday when he strayed from his group and made a break for the border.

I can’t see Travis doing anything like that,” Gates told ABC News.

King, a cavalry scout in the Army since January 2021, recently spent 47 days at a South Korean detention facility on assault charges, stemming from an altercation with locals. He was released on July 10 and told his mother he was supposed to return to the United States, where he could have faced additional military disciplinary actions and discharge from the service.

Gates, who is lives in Racine, Wisc., said all she wanted was for her son to “come home.”

According to officials, 23-year-old King was escorted to an airport outside of Seoul where he was supposed to board a plane bound for Fort Bliss, Texas. He made it all the way through airport security before he ditched his keepers and then found his way back to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

Dressed in civilian clothes, King joined a tour of the Korean border village of Panmunjom, a popular tourist spot inside the 154-mile DMZ. One member of the tour group told CBS News that King cackled as he bolted across the border.

“This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings,” the witness said, adding that while military personnel reacted within seconds, they were not quick enough to catch King.

“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.”

It marked the first U.S. defection to the communist regime since the 1960s.


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