KENOSHA, Wisc.— Family members of Travis King, the U.S. solider who inexplicably crossed into North Korea, said Wednesday they’re suffering every moment he remains away and pleaded with the U.S. government to do more to get him home.
It’s been a little more than a week since Pvt. 2nd Class King joined a private tour group visiting the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separates North and South Korea, and made a mad dash into North Korea.
King was believed to have been taken into North Korean custody after crossing the border, a United States Forces Korea spokesperson has said.
“The days are getting longer, nights are worse,” King’s sister Jaqueda Gates, 27, told NBC News at their grandparents’ home in Kenosha. “All I think about is what he can be doing.”
King, a Racine native, had been telling family how much he was looking forward to returning to the United States, his sister said, making last week’s run to North Korea all the more mystifying.
“This is crazy, I was just talking to him, literally 48 hours ago (before the DMZ incident), it was crazy,” Gates said. “My brother, he’s not the type to get into trouble like that. It all just sounds made up.”
King had been scheduled to fly back to Fort Bliss, Texas, last week, where he was expected to face more discipline over a confrontation with local police that landed him in Korean custody for 1 ½ months, according to a South Korean government official.
Instead of getting on a flight at Incheon International Airport, King apparently slipped away and joined the private tour group at the DMZ.
His run into North Korea, considered one of the worlds’s most repressive and impoverished nations, stunned others in his travel party, who initially thought it was a prank.
King’s loved ones said they hope the U.S. government is working as hard as possible to get King home, the family said.
“When he went to the Army to fight for America, America should fight for him, fight for him to come home,” said Myron Gates, King’s uncle.
Jaqueda Gates added: “At the end of the day, I just feel like it should be no men left behind.”
U.S. officials said Monday that there have been no new communications between the United Nations and North Korea since last week. A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that King’s well-being is a top priority for the U.S.
King’s family members said they’ve been in touch with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died in 2017 after being held in North Korea.
Myron Gates said Warmbier’s parents have been supportive of King’s family and have given them advice about the situation. Gates said he fears what could happen to his nephew.
Warmbier “came back in a vegetative state. That’s my worst fear, that my little nephew comes back like that. I hope he comes back the same way he went in,” Gates said.
King’s sister, uncle and cousin Anthony Williams spoke on behalf of the soldier Wednesday evening, as his mother could not.
Claudine Gates was confronted by police at a Mt. Pleasant hotel on Tuesday night and placed on a medical hold, after barricading the door and flooding the room, authorities said.
“She’s emotionally distressed right now,” said Myron Gates, adding that his sister lost a 6-month-old back in 1996. “She’s an emotional wreck right now.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week King went into North Korea “willfully and without authorization.”
Loved ones insisted King was looking forward to returning to the United States and wouldn’t have wanted to harm himself.
“It sounds like a suicide attempt, because why would he run to our enemies?” Jaqueda Gates said. “But we know it wasn’t.”
Alan Cohen reported from Kenosha and David K. Li from New York City.