Here’s What We Know About Travis King, The Black U.S. Solider Who Crossed Into North Korea
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Pvt. 2nd Class King, 23, is in North Korean custody after crossing the heavily forbidden border “willfully and without authorization” on July 18, 2023.
King was recently released from prison in South Korea and was being escorted by the military to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul to potentially face more disciplinary action in the United States.
However, King joined a tour group headed for the joint security area instead of going to his gate. A witness and tourist group member, Sarah Leslie, said she noticed a man “running what looked like full gas toward the North Korean side.”
Added Leslie, “Everybody was stunned and shocked. There were some people who hadn’t even realized what was going on.”
Prior to this incident, King, who has served in the military since 2021, had several run-ins with South Korean law officials. In Sept. 2022, he was accused of punching a Korean national at a nightclub in Seoul. In February 2023, he was fined $3,950 in the capital city for repeatedly kicking a police patrol car and was charged with damaging public property. He landed in jail after failing to cooperate with officers after he was apprehended at the scene and shouting profanities about Koreans and the Korean army.
With the tour visiting the Demilitarized Zone dividing South and North Korea, Leslie and other tourists assumed King’s actions were a prank, according to the Associated Press.
“I assumed initially he had a mate filming him in some kind of really stupid prank or stunt, like a TikTok, the most stupid thing you could do,” Leslie said. “But then I heard one of the soldiers shout, ‘Get that guy.’”
She said everything happened so fast and the soldiers didn’t have much time to respond. King ran about 30 feet through a gap between the distinctive blue buildings and once he was over the border, he disappeared from sight.
King is the first known American to be detained in North Korea since Bruce Byron Lowrance, who was caught entering from China in 2018.