Travis King: US soldier who fled to North Korea in US custody after expulsion

Private Travis King ran into the North in July while on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA)  (ES Composite)
Private Travis King ran into the North in July while on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) (ES Composite)

A US soldier who crossed into the country through its heavily armed border with South Korea in July is in US custody after being expelled by North Korea into China.

Private Travis King ran into the North in July while on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas, and was detained.

US officials said on Wednesday that King was in US custody after North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said their authorities had finished their questioning of King.

The North Korean regime said he had confessed to illegally entering the North because he harboured “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the US Army.

King, who joined the US Army in January 2021, is a cavalry scout with the Korean Rotational Force, which is part of the US security commitment to South Korea.

However, he faced two allegations of assault in South Korea, and eventually pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car.

He was due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the United States.

King had finished serving military detention and had been transported by the US military to the airport to return to his home unit in the United States.

Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran across despite attempts by South Korean and US guards to stop him.

There have been previous attempts by US soldiers stationed in South Korea to desert or defect to North Korea, but King’s expulsion decision came relatively quickly as others have spent years before being released from the dictatorship.

The soldier’s family, including his mother, Claudine Gates, previously appealed to North Korea to treat him humanely.

King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News in August that his nephew had experienced racism during his military deployment, and that after he spent time in a South Korean jail, he did not sound like himself.

A Pentagon spokesperson previously said it could not verify King’s alleged comments and said it was focused on bringing him back.

King’s future remains unknown, having been declared AWOL by the US government. That can mean punishment by time in military jail, forfeiture of pay or a dishonourable discharge.