A tourist who watched American soldier Travis King sprint across the border into North Korea on Tuesday says at the time she thought he was pulling a “really stupid prank” or filming a TikTok video.
Sarah Leslie and her father were with a large group of tourists visiting the Demilitarized Zone dividing South and North Korea when Army Private 2nd Class Travis King began running “really fast” toward North Korea.
“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,” Leslie told the Associated Press. “But then I heard one of the soldiers should, ‘Get that guy.’”
Leslie, a lawyer who was visiting Seoul from New Zealand, said the command was given by an American soldier patrolling the area with South Korean troops.
Despite the urgency, soldiers were unable to grab King, 23, before he disappeared beyond the border.
The whole incident was over in a matter of seconds, Leslie recalled. Many of the tourists, including her father, didn’t even see King run but were told what happened by soldiers.
“People couldn’t really quite believe what had happened,” Leslie said. “Quite a few were really shocked. Once we got on the bus and got out of there we were all kind of staring at each other.”
Leslie, who developed an interest in the Koreas after studying politics in college, said she didn’t understand King’s decision to flee to North Korea.
“I just didn’t think anyone would ever want to do that,” Leslie said.
Another tourist from Sweden wrote in a Facebook post that King was laughing loudly as he ran into the Hermit Kingdom.
“To our right, we hear a loud HA-HA-HA and one guy from OUR GROUP that has been with us all day- runs in between two of the buildings and over to the other side!!” Mikaela Johansson wrote.
“It took everybody a second to react and grasp what had actually happened, then we were ordered into and through Freedom House and running back to our military bus.”
King was being held at a South Korean prison over assault charges and was facing additional military discipline. He was supposed to be flying back to the US on Tuesday and had slipped his military escort when he was spotted in civilian clothes at a tour of the Joint Security Area.
US officials say King made a “deliberate decision” to cross into North Korea, but they have not elaborated on how he eluded officials en route to the airport and made it to the demilitarized zone.
King is believed to be in custody in North Korea, the UN Command tweeted.
“We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” the message continued, referring to North Korea’s Korean People’s Army.
The US and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, but Sweden has stepped in to help Washington D.C. on matters in the Hermit Kingdom since 1995.
Swedish officials, however, are not able to negotiate detained Americans’ releases.
In June 2017, Joseph Yun, then the US special representative for North Korea policy, traveled to Pyongyang to try to bring home American college student Otto Warmbier.
Yun was able to secure Warmbier’s release, but the Ohio native was comatose and died shortly after his return to America.
SOURCE: New york post