The decade's most triggering comedy
The American soldier in North Korean custody skipped a one-way flight back to the U.S. before sprinting across the demilitarized zone and entering a van driven by North Korean troops, a “serious incident report” first obtained by The Messenger reportedly says.
U.S. Army Private Travis King, 23, “willfully and without authorization” crossed the border into North Korean territory on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.
U.S. soldier Travis King detained after intentionally crossing into North Korea.
King faced two assault charges and was fined by a South Korean court for damaging a police car.
He was being escorted back to the US, reportedly to face disciplinary action. pic.twitter.com/1rm0ntihFN
— Bo Mbindwane (@mbindwane) July 19, 2023
King, who joined the U.S. Army in January 2021, was involved in at least two separate episodes where South Korean police were brought in to intervene. In September 2022, King had a case settled after he was accused of punching a man in the face at a South Korean club. The following month, he was accused of acting aggressively toward police officers responding to a call about a fight, court documents obtained by Reuters show.
According to The Messenger report, King missed his flight to Fort Bliss, Texas, to face further disciplinary action approximately 24 hours before North Korean authorities detained him.
King was escorted by U.S. and South Korean military officials to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, and he reportedly texted the staff sergeant who had accompanied him that he had made it to the departure gate, which was scheduled to depart at 5:40 p.m. local time. Army soldiers at Fort Bliss alerted King’s chain of command in South Korea that he had never arrived in Texas and had not responded to attempts to contact him. It was unknown how King missed his flight and left the airport.
“King was placed in pretrial confinement and then a Korean [Status of Forces Agreement] confinement facility for 50 days, where he had to perform hard labor before authorities released King on July 10,” the report states. Before authorities placed him on an international hold, King booked two private tours of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. Although he missed the first tour, a confirmed reservation shows King was with Hana Tours ITC when he dashed across the North Korean DMZ line.
One witness reportedly said King ran across the border yelling, “ha-ha-ha.”
Sarah Leslie, a New Zealand tourist, told The Associated Press a soldier shouted to other authorities, “Get that guy.'”
“I assumed initially he had a mate filming him in some kind of really stupid prank or stunt, like a TikTok, the most stupid thing you could do,” Leslie said.
According to the report, authorities chased after King as he ran toward the zone between South and North Korea’s “Conference Row” before he ran north to Panmungak. King then ran behind a Korean People’s Army building before he entered a van driven by North Korean troops, according to the report.
An official familiar with the investigation told The Messenger that the U.S. military is investigating whether prior communications were made between the junior soldier and Korean authorities. The Army’s 2nd Infantry Division is also investigating the incident, according to The Messenger.
The State Department banned U.S. citizens from crossing into North Korean territory in 2017 after college student Otto Warmbier died days after returning to the U.S. in a coma following 18 months of detention in the communist nation.
North Korean authorities sentenced Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor after he was accused of theft involving a poster from the wall of his hotel in Pyongyang, the nation’s capital city where he was part of a group tour, according to NBC.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday told reporters that the Biden administration’s “primary concern at this time is ascertaining [King’s] well-being and getting to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
The detention comes just days after the U.S. sent the USS Kentucky to South Korea, the first time a nuclear-armed submarine had been sent to the area in more than 30 years.