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In this photo taken on May 9, 2023, South Korean soldiers stand guard as they face North Korea’s Panmon Hall (back) at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. | Source: ANTHONY WALLACE / Getty

UPDATED: 11:45 a.m. ET with uncle’s quotes.

There are even more questions after it was reported that an American military member who crossed into North Korea was not only a Black man but also one who had recently been released from a South Korean prison and was expected to face additional discipline upon his return to the U.S.

Private 2nd Class Travis King has been identified as the U.S. Army soldier who is being detained by North Korean authorities after he appeared to defect into the rogue nation that’s been largely isolated by the globe following multiple threats of nuclear aggression.

The 23-year-old soldier was allegedly taking part in a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) before he crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) into North Korea. The motivation behind King’s actions was not immediately clear, but one of King’s family members suggested he may have been in the throes of an emotional breakdown.

North Korea hasn’t offered any public comment about King.

Here’s everything we know about Travis King crossing from South Korea into North Korea.


King had recently been released from a South Korean prison on assault charges. He was also fined for damaging a local police car. Additional details were not immediately available. Following his release, he was set to return to a military base in Texas where he was likely to be disciplined further stemming from his jailing in South Korea, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that Travis King “willfully and without authorization” crossed into North Korea.

The U.N. Command issued a similar statement.

“A U.S. national on a JSA orientation tour crossed, without authorization, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the U.N. Command said. “We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA [Korean People’s Army] counterparts to resolve this incident.”

A North Korean news outlet published a report pointing to a social media post from someone who claimed to have been on the same tour as Travis King when he crossed into the rogue country. The post said Travis King was laughing as he crossed into North Korea, whose media services have long been questioned for accuracy.

NKNews reported:

In a Facebook post, Mikaela Johansson of Sweden wrote that she was on the same tour and that one of the male guests dashed across the MDL when her group visited the Joint Security Area.

“To our right, we hear a loud HA-HA-HA and one guy from OUR GROUP that has been with us all day- runs in between two of the buildings and over to the other side!!” she wrote.

“It took everybody a second to react and grasp what had actually happened, then we were ordered into and through Freedom House and running back to our military bus.”

Johansson said authorities at the JSA asked visitors not to share pictures of the incident.

Travis King “had passed through airport security as he was being sent home from South Korea for disciplinary reasons” before he left to join the tour of the North Korean border, the Independent reported. It remains unclear how Travis King was able to just leave the airport and join the tour group without being noticed.

King may have been grieving

At the time of the crossing into North Korea, King was possibly having an ongoing emotional reaction to the death of his uncle’s young son months ago.

Carl Gates, whose sister is King’s mother, told the Daily Beast that the news had weighed heavy on the young soldier, particularly because he was abroad away from his family.

“It affected Travis a lot,” Gates said.

He said King began acting “reckless” before the 7-year-old died and believes the North Korea incident is “related” to the death.

North Korea

Typically, if anybody crosses the demarcation line, it’s been North Koreans defecting to the South in an effort to flee the ruthless authoritarian government of leader Kim Jong Un, who has long been accused of human rights violations.

According to the U.S. Department of State, there is a travel ban for Americans entering North Korea.

“Do not travel to North Korea due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals,” the State Department says on its website. “Exercise increased caution to North Korea due to the critical threat of wrongful detention.”

Considering Kim is making the country’s diplomatic decisions, coupled with the fact that Travis King is a Black American, the racist leanings of the nation’s leader can’t be ignored. Lest we forget that Kim has defended calling Obama a “wicked black monkey” and befriended former U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently espouses racist views.

Kim also has a checkered past when it comes to other forms of diplomacy with the U.S., including the handling of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released in a vegetative state following imprisonment in North Korea.

This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.


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