Travis King, the young American soldier whoin July, was back in U.S. custody Wednesday, a U.S. official confirmed. North Korea announced earlier Wednesday that it would expel King and said he had confessed to illegally entering the country.
“We appreciate the hard work of personnel in the Army, United States Forces Korea, and across the Department of Defense to bring Private King home, and we thank the governments of Sweden and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for their assistance,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.
Jonathan Franks, a representative for King’s family, shared a message from the soldier’s mother, Claudine Gates, on social media Wednesday, saying she would be “forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done,” and requesting privacy for the family.
North Korea’s KCNA released a statement earlier in the day saying: “The relevant agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] decided to expel Travis King, an American soldier who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, in accordance with the laws of the Republic.”
King, a Private 2nd Class in the U.S. Army, entered North Korea while taking part in a guided tour of the border village of Panmunjom, which he joined after absconding from an airport in Seoul, South Korea, where he was supposed to have boarded a flight back to the U.S.
North Korea previously claimed that King had told investigators he crossed the border because he, “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”
The U.S. military said at the time that it could not verify those allegations.
The soldier had been scheduled to return to the U.S. after serving time at a South Korea detention facility for assaulting two people and kicking a police car while in the country. After parting ways from his U.S. military escort at the airport, King skipped his flight and joined the civilian tour of the border town, where he ran across into North Korea.
last month with The Associated Press, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.
“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” she said.
King has served in the U.S. Army since January 2021. He has not been deployed for active duty but was in South Korea as part of the Pentagon’s regular Korean Force Rotation.
King is likely to have proven “unsuitable for propaganda purposes” to North Korea, Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean studies in Seoul told CBS News, because the soldier entered North Korea as a fugitive, making it “difficult” for the country’s authorities to deal with him.
Yang also told CBS News the decision to deport the soldier was likely made in part due to a “lukewarm” response to the incident by Washington.
CBS News’ Cami McCormick in Washington D.C. and Jen Kwon in Seoul contributed to this report.