The family of Army Pvt. Travis King, the soldier who crossed the border into North Korea in mid-July, says they have not heard from the military since they were first made aware of the incident.
While the rest of the world watches in bewilderment, they are also left with questions about what the young soldier was up to in the months before he made the choice to run across the border from South Korea, a long-time US ally, and take control. fall of one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive regimes.
“It’s been 16 or 17 days now and they have no information and they feel like they’ve just been completely left to the wolves,” Jonathan Franks, a newly appointed spokesperson for the familytold Miltary.com in a phone interview Friday.
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“They are frustrated with the inability to get information other than from articles by reporters,” Franks added.
In the days leading up to his sudden flight to North Korea, King, 23, had just been released from a South Korean prison and was scheduled to fly back to Fort Bliss, Texas, to face additional military discipline. Instead, he somehow ended up on a civilian tour through the border village of Panmunjom, a major tourist attraction, where he stormed into North Korea on July 18.
Franks said the family’s first — and only — contact with the military was when an Army NCO called King’s mother to inform her of the incident. Franks said she remembered it being a sergeant, though he admits that in the emotion of the moment she may not have remembered it very well.
King’s “mom was understandably a bit distraught,” he said, adding that “she can’t remember exactly what was said during the conversation.”
Military.com reached out to the military for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
On July 21, three days after news of King’s flight to North Korea broke, the family said through the military that they would not conduct interviews and asked for privacy.
Finally, on August 1, the Pentagon announced that North Korea had acknowledged the UN Command’s investigation into King. But Brig. General Pat Ryder, the Defense Department’s chief spokesman, said he had “no substantial progress to read”.
Franks announced on social media Thursday night that he is representing King’s immediate family, saying they had questions not only about the young soldier’s condition, but also his behavior during his deployment in Korea.
“He didn’t have these issues where he was last stationed,” said Franks, who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to speak to the family in person. “The last time the family saw him before he was sent out [to South Korea]He was happy, he was doing well, he talked about a long career in the military.”
According to Franks, “there was just a cluster of problems in the fall of ’22” and “everything goes to hell”.
But a person connected to King’s family, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss family matters, said this period roughly coincided with a time when everyone was deeply emotional about the death of King’s nephew.
But even on top of those emotions, this person had pre-existing doubts about whether King was stable enough for military life.
“I know Travis enough to say personally that he should never have been allowed into the military or sent abroad,” said the person connected to the family. “He’s a quiet kid, but when he gets triggered he has trouble controlling himself.”
Franks said the idea that King had a hard time showing self-control is “not consistent” with what his mother and grandparents remember.
In any case, no one denies that King came into contact with the South Korean legal system in the fall of 2022.
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that King was charged with assault on Sept. 25, 2022, according to court documents reviewed by the newspaper, and Seoul police alleged that he pushed and beat a patron at a Mapo bar who refused to let him buy a drink.
Franks said the family is “shocked” by the accusation, and part of their desire to learn about King’s time in Korea is to apologize. However, King’s mom also wants to know, “was my son provoked?” he added.
Several outlets also reported that King was arrested just before 4 a.m. in Mapo on October 8, 2022, and placed in a police car, where he then caused several thousand dollars worth of damage. He also went on an anti-Korean diatribe.
After failing to pay a fine as a result of that incident, he was sent to prison. However, according to the family, that did not stop the messages from him.
Franks says that while the family interacted with King during his time in South Korea, “his messages became ominous”.
“Some of them were received while he is reportedly in prison in South Korea doing hard labor,” Franks said, before noting that he had seen them in person.
The family now questions whether all the messages they received from King were indeed written by him, which is another reason why they are frustrated with the military’s lack of communication.
“We have information relevant to the investigation. … These people are eager to be good citizens and provide it … in exchange for a really constructive mutual engagement with the military,” Franks said.
Franks says former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson — a man who negotiated with North Korea numerous times and helped arrange the release of captives from other countries — has agreed to help in their cause.
— Thomas Novelly can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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