White House says it is trying to find out what happened to soldier

The White House says it is still trying to find out what happened to American soldier Travis King who disappeared after crossing into North Korea and says it has asked Sweden to help secure his return

  • Private Travis King was last seen running across the border on Tuesday 
  • ‘We are still gathering all the facts,’ said Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 
  • She added that officials had asked Sweden for diplomatic help

The Biden administration is still trying to find out the health and whereabouts of an American soldier who crossed into North Korea, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.

Private Travis King was last seen a day earlier, sprinting across the border as members of his tour group looked on in shock.

North Korea has offered no details of its apparent detention of the 23-year-old cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division.

At her daily briefing, Jean-Pierre was asked if the U.S. knew where he was being held and his health status.

‘The White House, Department of Defence, the State Department and the U.N. are all continuing to work together on this matter to ascertain the information … the questions that you just asked me about his well being and the whereabouts of private King,’ she said.

‘We are still gathering all the facts. It is still very early on.’

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said officials had ‘reached out’ to Sweden, which has diplomatic relations with North Korea, for help in bringing home Private Travis King

King was last seen on Tuesday as he ran from a tour group in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Tourists thought it was some kind of prank

King signed up in 2021 but was due to return to the U.S. under a cloud. He had recently been released from local detention after an altercation last year.

On Monday he was supposed to fly back to Texas. He was escorted to Seoul’s international airport but left without boarding his plane. 

Experts on North Korea said that he could either hand the secretive nation a propaganda coup if he claims to be defecting, or represent a valuable bargaining chip for its leader Kim Jong-un. 

Jean-Pierre added: ‘We’re gathering all the facts. But I want to be very clear that the administration has and will continue to actively work to ensure his safety and the return of private King, to us and to his family, obviously.’

She said that included working with Sweden, which maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea, as well as with South Korea. 

However, Swedish embassy staff are reportedly yet to return to the country after they were ordered out during the COVID-19 pandemic, further complicating matters.

A woman who was on the tour with King said she initially thought his dash was some kind of stunt.

‘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,’ tourist Sarah Leslie told the Associated Press. 

‘But then I heard one of the soldiers shout, “Get that guy.”‘

US Army Private 2nd Class Travis King, circled, is pictured during the tour moments before his dash across the border into North Korea. His hat was purchased from a gift shop at the demilitarized zone

She said that after running about 30 feet down a  passageway between  distinctive blue buildings, King was over the border and disappeared from sight. 

Leslie, from New Zealand, said he was part of a 43-strong group that left Tuesday morning from the South Korean capital Seoul to visit the Demilitarized Zone that divides north and south.

King is the first known American soldier held in North Korea for nearly five years.

The episode comes amid heightened tensions. On Tuesday night North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea in what was said to be a test just as a U.S. nuclear armed submarine was arriving off South Korea. 

The Japan Ministry of Defense posted this map of where two ballistic missiles fell

The distance traveled by the missiles roughly matched the distance between Pyongyang and the South Korean port city of Busan, where the USS Kentucky arrived Tuesday afternoon in the first such visit since the 1980s.

Meanwhile King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said she had heard from her son just days before and he told her that he would return to his base in Fort Bliss, Texas.

She said she was ‘shocked’ by the news, adding: ‘I can’t see Travis doing anything like that.’ 


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