US soldier North Korea: Travis King's family says he experienced racism before running across border

ByReena Roy, ABC News
Thursday, August 3, 2023
Family of soldier detained in North Korea says he was not himself
Travis King, a US soldier who is being held in North Korea after running across the border, was experiencing racism before the incident.

RACINE, Wis. -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News, the family of a missing U.S. Army private, who crossed into North Korea, is alleging he was experiencing racism prior to the incident.

"It feels like I'm in a big nightmare," said Claudine Gates, mother of Travis King.

King is being held in Communist North Korea after running across the border from the south.

Last month, the 23-year-old soldier was supposed to board a flight back to the U.S. after serving time in a South Korean jail following a physical altercation.

But instead of getting on that plane, Pentagon officials said King left the airport and joined a tour of the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, the heavily fortified border area that separates North and South Korea.

King was reportedly photographed, dressed in black, moments before authorities said he deliberately sprinted across the border.

He was taken into custody by North Koreans, and driven away in a van.

"Travis would not just go over the border like that. He's the type of kid, he would've wanted to come home," Gates said.

King's family said his mental health had declined prior to his disappearance.

His uncle told ABC he was experiencing racism during his military deployment, and after he spent time in jail, he didn't sound like himself.

"I was like, 'are you OK?' and he's telling me, 'no, they're trying to kill me.' He was saying things like, said they're racist. It made it seem like something was going on with him," Myron Gates said.

His mother said she received a disturbing phone call in the middle of the night.

"He said, 'I'm not the Army soldier you want me to be, I'm not the Army soldier you want me to be,' and he kept screaming that out loud, and then all the sudden the phone hung up, and then they were taking him to the hospital," Claudine Gates said.

King's family is desperate for answers, calling on the U.S. government to help bring him home.

The administration said they're doing what they can.

This week, for the first time, North Korea confirmed that they are holding King.