A U.S. soldier identified as Travis King, 23, is making headlines after dashing across one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world: the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarized zone (DMZ).
While King’s status is currently unclear, here’s the rundown on the situation.
The Soldier Ran Into North Korea Instead Of Going Back To Texas
BBC News notes the soldier specifically had a history of getting into fights around Seoul, which ultimately landed him in custody. Upon being released earlier this month, he was briefly placed under military surveillance and slated to fly back to Fort Bliss, Texas.
However, while authorities transported him to Incheon International Airport, King blended into a group of 43 tourists visiting a village smack on the border between North and South Korea, AP News reports.
A New Zealand-based tourist named Sarah Leslie recalled seeing King suddenly begin running “really fast” toward North Korea, though she had no idea that he was being serious.
“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.’ … I just didn’t think anyone would ever want to do that.”
Despite the efforts of American and South Korean forces, Travis King swiftly made it into North Korea.
What in the bloody hell was Travis King thinking.
He assaults Korean citizens, then goes on a racist rank against Koreans while in custody—and then he decides to cross into North Korea.
Whatever punishment he faced in the US will pale in comparison to what he’s about to endure. pic.twitter.com/F4gMhnpt2j
— JΛKΣ (@USMCLiberal) July 19, 2023
U.S. Officials, Family, & Experts Chime In On The Travis King Situation
In response to the situation, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted that, while an investigation is ongoing, officials know Travis King “willfully and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added that the U.S. is currently “engaging with Sweden and South Korea” and working on “getting to the bottom of what happened.” She also declared that their “primary concern” is “ascertaining his well-being.”
As for the soldier’s family, his mother—Claudine Gates—told ABC News, “I can’t see Travis doing anything like that.” She also shared that she wants “him to come home.”
King’s grandfather, Carl Gates, expressed similar sentiments and questioned whether King was “in his right mind,” AP News reports.
“I think right now he might have a problem or something. I can’t see him doing that intentionally if he was in his right mind.”
While the status of the soldier is currently unclear, Yang Moo-jin—president of South Korea’s University of North Korean Studies—said North Korea will “likely” use Travis King “as a bargaining chip,” per AP News.
“It’s likely that North Korea will use the soldier for propaganda purposes in the short term and then as a bargaining chip.”
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). We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident. pic.twitter.com/a6amvnJTuY
— United Nations Command 유엔군사령부/유엔사 (@UN_Command) July 18, 2023
There are no further updates at this time.