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Mother of US soldier Travis King who crossed into North Korea speaks out: ‘Just want him home’

‘When my son was on life support, and when my son passed away… Travis started [being] reckless [and] crazy when he knew my son was about to die,’ Carl Gates says

Shweta Sharma,Gustaf Kilander
Wednesday 19 July 2023 21:11 BST
US soldier crossed into North Korea ‘without authorisation’, defence secretary confirms

The mother of the American soldier who illegally crossed into North Korea said she was “shocked” and just wanted him to return home.

Meanwhile, his uncle has said that he was “breaking down” following the death of his seven-year-old cousin.

Private 2nd Class Travis King, who is in his early 20s, crossed the heavily fortified inter-Korean border to enter North Korea where he is believed to be detained. The incident has threatened a new diplomatic row and a crisis with the nuclear-armed state.

His mother, Claudine Gates, who lives in Racine, Wisconsin, told ABC News that she heard from her son “a few days ago”.

“I can’t see Travis doing anything like that,” Ms Gates said, adding that she was taken aback when she was told her son had crossed into North Korea.

She said she received the information that Mr King was being held up in North Korea on Tuesday morning, days after her son told her he would return to his base in Fort Bliss, Texas, soon.

She said she just wants “him to come home”.

The mother’s brother, Carl Gates, told The Daily Beast that he was one of the last people to speak to the 23-year-old before his defection. Mr King had been struggling after the death of Mr Gates’s son King’Nazir in February of this year from a rare genetic disorder.

“His mom came down on a few occasions, and she then talked to him and let him know what was going on with my son. And it seemed like he was breaking down. It affected Travis a lot,” Mr Gates told the outlet. “Because he couldn’t be here. He was in the Army, overseas.”

“When my son was on life support, and when my son passed away… Travis started [being] reckless [and] crazy when he knew my son was about to die,” Mr Gates said, adding that he’s a “father figure” to Mr King. “I know it was related to what he did.”

“Picture yourself being in the Army and your baby cousin from your favourite, my only child, he’s struggling and going through pain. And he’s crying like a baby, and now you’re in the service and you can’t do nothing about it. And then you’re crying like a baby,” Mr Gates told The Daily Beast. “The pain came from my son, and it escalated to this s***.”

Mr King became the first American to be detained in North Korea in nearly five years after crossing the heavily fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates the country from South Korea.

The illegal crossing by a US soldier has come at a time of renewed and intensified tensions with North Korea under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who ramped up his fiery rhetoric against Washington amid the country’s record missile testing spree.

North Korea has launched its banned intercontinental ballistic missiles in recent days, flexing its military muscle with its weapon which are capable of delivering nuclear warheads in American cities.

Mr King, who joined the army in 2021, was supposed to return to his base in Texas to face additional military disciplinary action after completing almost two months in a South Korean jail on assault charges, US officials said.

Following his release on 10 July he was transported to the airport by the US army and had passed through the security gates, being escorted as far as customs.

But Mr King did not board the plane and fled to join a civilian tour of the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea.

During some time at the tour, he left the tour group behind and he reportedly let out a loud laugh as he ran away.

The UN Command in a statement said: “A US National on a JSA (Joint Security Area) orientation tour crossed, without authorisation, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

Authorities said that “we are working with KPA (North Korean army) counterparts to resolve this incident”.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles from its capital Pyongyang plunging into the sea off its east coast. Each missile flew 550km and 600km and the missiles landed outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

It appeared to be in response to the nuclear-armed submarine the US deployed in South Korean wasters for the first time in decades.

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