A US Army soldier who mysteriously crossed the border into North Korea last month has “so many reasons to come home,” his mother said Wednesday, casting doubt on a recent statement suggesting that her son, Travis King , might seek refuge there. or in a third country.
Claudine Gates spoke to the Associated Press a week after North Korea released the statement through state media, in which it first confirmed it had detained the soldier and attributed criticism of the United States to him.
“I just can’t imagine him ever wanting to just stay in Korea if he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” said Gates of Racine, Wisconsin.
King, 23, had served in South Korea and sprinted into North Korea on a civilian tour of a border village on July 18. US officials have said they are working to get him home.
The official Korean Central News Agency said King, who is black, said he had decided to enter North Korea because he harbored “bad feelings about inhumane abuse and racial discrimination within the US military.” The report also said that King had said he was “disillusioned with the unequal American society” and expressed his willingness to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country.
US soldier fled after ‘beating’ in army, says North Korea
US officials last week said they could not verify the comments attributed to him, while White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters to “consider the source.” KCNA is the official voice of leader Kim Jong-un’s government, and its content reflects North Korea’s official line that the United States is an evil adversary.
Gates said in the AP interview that she had never heard her son express the feelings attributed to him.
“My son, he was proud to be American. He’s not even a racist type. That’s why I don’t see him saying that,” she said. But she added that “I was told he said something like that to his uncles” and that “their approach to him was a little bit different than mine. I am mom.”
Gates said she is still baffled by her son’s actions. Birthdays are important family milestones, she said, and she couldn’t imagine her son deliberately missing the chance to talk to her on July 26, her birthday.
She noted that in the months leading up to his flight across the border to North Korea, he had become significantly less communicative than he had been in his early days in the military. Relatives have previously said he may have felt overwhelmed as he faced legal troubles and his possible impending discharge from the military.
King would be sent back to the US to face military discipline after serving nearly two months in a South Korean prison for assault. But instead of boarding a flight to Texas as planned, King slipped away and quietly joined a civilian tour group bound for the Demilitarized Zone, which separates South and North Korea.
Whatever the matter, Gates said, directly to her son, “I’m not mad at you, Travis. I just want you to come home. He has a whole life ahead of him. He’s still a young man. I just want my baby to come home.”