A U.S. soldier believed to be detained in North Korea has a history of assault in South Korea and was facing disciplinary action in the U.S., according to reports.
What happened: Pvt. Travis King, 23, reportedly bolted into the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) while on a civilian tour on Tuesday. He was facing discharge from the Army after being fined 5 million won (approximately $3,900) and jailed for 47 days for an assault conviction in South Korea.
King was originally scheduled to return to Dallas, Texas, via an American Airlines flight on Monday. But while at the departure gate, he claimed that he had lost his passport and returned to the terminal, an airport official told Reuters.
On Tuesday, King was part of a group of 40 civilians touring the DMZ with South Korean company HanaTour ITC. In a shocking move, he separated from the group and ran past the demarcation line.
About his assault case: King was found guilty of an October 2022 incident in which he pushed and repeatedly punched a victim at a club in Seoul. After being arrested, he berated South Korea, its military and its police. He also repeatedly kicked the door of the patrol car, which resulted in damages worth 583,959 won (approximately $460).
What officials are saying: King crossed into North Korea “willfully and without authorization,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed on Tuesday. King is now believed to be in North Korean custody, but Pyongyang has so far remained silent about the incident.
King, who has been in the Army since January 2021, is the first known U.S. soldier to defect to North Korea since 1982. He is also the first known U.S. national to be detained in the country since Bruce Byron Lowrance in 2018.
The U.S. is reportedly “engaging” North Korea about King through South Korea and Sweden, which have embassies that represent U.S. interests in the country.
“Our primary concern at this time is ascertaining his well-being and getting to the bottom of exactly what happened,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.
King’s motive remains unknown. Admiral John Aquilino, who leads the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said he has “gotten no reports” that the soldier was a North Korean sympathizer.