A U.S. soldier who is being detained in North Korea has a Wisconsin connection.
According to a report from ABC News, Army Pvt. Travis King's mother resides in Racine and she said Tuesday that the Army said her son crossed over into North Korea in recent days.
King, 23, was a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division who had just served a 47-day sentence nearly two months in a South Korean prison for assault, after he allegedly kicked a South Korean squad car, damaging it. He was released on July 10 and was being sent home Monday to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he could have faced additional military discipline and discharge from the service.
He was escorted as far as customs but left the airport before boarding his plane. It wasn’t clear how he spent the hours until joining the Panmunjom tour and running across the border Tuesday afternoon.
King was last seen entering a van and being whisked away by officials from North Korea, U.S. officials said.
The soldier was on a tour of the storied border village of village of Panmunjom, inside the heavily fortified 154-mile-long DMZ, when the crossing happened, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Army Col. Isaac Taylor said Tuesday that a U.S. service member "willfully and without authorization" crossed into North Korea. King's mother, Claudine Gates, told ABC News she couldn't see King intentionally entering North Korean territory.
"I’m so proud of him. I just want him to come home, come back to America," Gates said. King joined the Army in January 2021.
United Nations Command said the American was in North Korean custody and it was working to "resolve the incident."
North Korea has not acknowledged the incident or commented at all. The U.S. State Department referred all inquiries to the Defense Department.
The border between North and South Korea is one of the most heavily fortified in the world. It runs for about 150 miles and divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half along the "38th parallel" − the cease-fire line of demarcation between the two nations that has existed since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The incident comes as tensions between North Korea and the U.S. and its allies in the region have surged over North Korea’s continued launch of ballistic missiles. Last week, North Korea launched what was suspected to be a ballistic missile and also threatened to shoot down U.S. surveillance planes.
Previous Americans who have been detained in North Korea have not been treated well. College student Otto Warmbier, for example, was released in a vegetative state in 2017 after spending 17 months in captivity. He died a short while later. His parents said he had been tortured and suffered brain damage.
Three Americans detained in North Korea were freed in 2018 when Donald Trump was president.
USA Today and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Drake Bentley can be reached at DBentley1@gannett.com.