ABC News has learned that the U.S. soldier was identified as Travis King.
LONDON — An American soldier who had just been released from a South Korean detention facility fled across the border to North Korea where he was taken into custody this month.
Here’s what we know about the situation.
Who is the detainee in North Korean custody?
The soldier in question was identified as 23-year-old U.S. Army Private 2nd Class Travis King, according to a U.S. official. King has been a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army since January 2021 and has no deployments, according to service information provided by Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee.
King has received three medals while serving in the U.S. military: the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal and the Overseas Service Ribbon. These medals are commonly received by American service members in Korea.
On Sept. 4, 2022, King failed to report for his daily formation and, when reached away from the base, stated that he “refused to return to post or America,” a U.S. official told ABC News.
At the time, King was serving as a cavalry scout at Camp Bonifas in northwestern South Korea, just south of the southern end of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, the heavily militarized border that separates North and South Korea. As a scout and because of where he was serving, King would have been aware of the risks in crossing the DMZ, according to the official.
The official said King was later found in Uijeongbu, a South Korean city some 25 miles southeast of Camp Bonifas.
Why was he in a South Korean detention facility?
King served 47 days in a South Korean detention facility following an altercation with locals, according to a U.S. official.
South Korean media reported that King allegedly punched someone in the face repeatedly while drinking at a club in Seoul last September. He also allegedly kicked and broke the door of a police patrol car that was sent to the scene of a reported assault in Seoul last October, according to South Korean media.
After finishing his sentence, King was released from the detention facility on July 10, according to The Associated Press.
A U.S. official told ABC News that King was set to face a “pending administrative separation actions for foreign conviction” upon his return to the United States.
How did he get to North Korea?
Two U.S. officials told ABC News that King spent about a week under observation at a U.S. military base in South Korea after being released from jail. He completed out-processing from the facility and on July 17 was escorted by U.S. military officials to South Korea’s Incheon International Airport as far as the customs checkpoint.
The military escort had no ticket and was not allowed past the checkpoint, so King continued into the terminal alone, according to the U.S. officials.
A U.S. official told ABC News that King was supposed to board a flight and end up in Fort Bliss, Texas. Because King had finished serving his sentence, he was no longer under custody and, thus, an escort to the gate was not required. There was also no reason to suspect he would fail to board his flight.
But instead, King left the airport terminal for a tour of the DMZ. There was a gap of almost 12 hours from when King was dropped at the airport to the time he crossed the DMZ, according to U.S. officials. It’s unclear when he bought a ticket for the tour.