- US soldier Travis King “willfully” crossed into North Korea, the US defense secretary said.
- The soldier’s uncle said he had been “breaking down” over the illness and death of his young cousin.
- “I know it was related to what he did,” his uncle told The Daily Beast.
US officials identified the soldier as Travis King. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was believed to be in North Korean custody after he “willfully and without authorization” crossed the border between South Korea and North Korea.
King’s uncle, Carl Gates, said he was one of the last people to speak to King before the incident, and described himself as a “father figure” to him.
He told The Daily Beast that King had struggled with his son’s illness and death.
Gates’ son, King’Nazir, spent days on life support before dying from a rare genetic disorder in February.
“When my son was on life support, and when my son passed away… Travis started reckless [and] crazy when he knew my son was about to die,” Gates said.
“I know it was related to what he did,” he added.
“And it seemed like he was breaking down. It affected Travis a lot,” Gates said. “Because he couldn’t be here. He was in the army, overseas.”
An Army spokesperson told Insider that King joined in January 2021.
King had been held in a South Korean prison for almost two months over assault charges before the incident, and was being brought back to the US on Tuesday, but left the airport and joined the tour instead of getting on the plane, US officials told The Associated Press.
A witness on the same tour as King told CBS News what happened at the North Korean border.
“This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings,” they said, adding: “I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy.”
It is unclear what King’s motivations were, and if he was defecting to North Korea. It’s also not clear what North Korea will now do with him.
Austin said the US military was “closely monitoring and investigating the situation, and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin, and engaging to address this incident.”