David Sneddon was presumed dead after he vanished in the Yunnan Province in western China when he was 24. A student at Brigham Young University, police said Mr Sneddon likely died while hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge near the Jinsha River on 14 August 2004.
But they never recovered a body.
On Wednesday, Yahoo News Japan reported that Mr Sneddon had been spotted in North Korea, where he is believed to live. He reportedly works as an English teacher, and has a wife and two children.
The US Department of State announced Wednesday that they will begin searching for Mr Sneddon in North Korea.
Choi Sun-yong, who heads the Abductees’ Family Union, said a source revealed Mr Sneddon had in fact been kidnapped by North Korean operatives, and worked as an English tutor for Kim Jong-un – who was heir to the country’s dictatorship at the time.
Mr Sneddon’s parents, Roy and Kathleen, never believed the official story that their son had died falling into a river. Knowing North Korea's reputation for kidnapping foreigners, they believed the Kim regime sought out their son for his fluency in Korean – which he used during his time spent as a Mormon missionary in South Korea - and snatched him for their own purposes.
Over the past 12 years, the Sneddons never stopped campaigning for American officials to investigate their son’s disappearance.
“We just knew in our heart that he was alive, so we had to keep fighting,” Ms Sneddon told Deseret News Utah.
Utah representatives had previously urged Congress to investigate the circumstances of Mr Sneddon’s disappearance, and confirm whether or not he was kidnapped by North Korea.
“The evidence indicates that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about David’s disappearance,” Representative Chris Stewart, who serves on the US House Intelligence Committee said in a February statement.
“David’s family deserves answers to those questions, and until we find those answers, I will continue urging the State Department to pursue all possible explanations for David’s disappearance.”