As Army Private Travis King’s motives are being analyzed after he dashed into North Korea on Tuesday, his mother is mystified.
“I can’t see Travis doing anything like that,” Claudine Gates said, according to ABC.
Gates said she last heard from King “a few days ago,” when he told her he was returning from South Korea to Fort Bliss.
“I’m so proud of him. I just want him to come home, come back to America,” Gates said, according to WISN-TV.
King “willfully and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line. We believe that he is in DPRK custody,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday, using the acronym for the official name of North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, according to ABC.
King, 23, who has been with the Army since January 2021, has a past that includes a run-in with South Korean authorities.
According to NBC, he was fined 5 million won ($3,950) by a South Korean court. He had been accused of kicking and damaging a Seoul police car. At the time, he refused to cooperate in his arrest and shouted profanities about South Koreans and the nation’s army.
King served 47 days in prison and was recently released, ABC reported.
A military escort brought King to the Incheon International Airport to fly home, where he would be separated from the service, a U.S. official said, NBC reported.
Instead, King found a way to join a tour group going through the Joint Security Area.
Sarah Leslie, a New Zealand tourist, said that as the group finished its tour of the truce village of Panmunjom, King acted.
She said she saw King “running what looked like full gas towards the North Korean side.”
“Everybody was stunned and shocked,” Leslie said.
“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. But then I heard one of the soldiers shout, ‘Get that guy,’” Leslie said, according to the Associated Press.
Leslie said a U.S. soldier issued the command to stop King, but it was too late.
She said King ran about 30 feet between buildings and then was in North Korean territory, where he vanished from view.
“People couldn’t really quite believe what had happened,” Leslie said. “Quite a few were really shocked. Once we got on the bus and got out of there, we were all kind of staring at each other.”