The family of Private 2nd Class Travis King, who ran into North Korea, received “unusual” text messages and music videos that led them to believe he was grappling with racism, according to Jonathan Franks, a representative for the family. King did not provide further details about his experiences with racism.
King was released from a South Korean jail on July 10 after spending 48 days imprisoned for an incident in October. During this incident, he resisted law enforcement, caused public property damage, and shouted offensive words about South Korea and the Korean military, NBC News and other media reported.
Between March 2023 and his disappearance, the 23-year-old soldier sent messages indicating he was dealing with racism. Franks described these messages as “out of character” and “at times, bizarre.” King’s method of communication also included sending music videos, such as “Slang That Iron” by YNW Melley and “My Name Is” by Eminem. Franks declined to detail more explicit text messages and said his records were undated.
On July 18, after exiting the Seoul airports and joining a tour of the Joint Security Area, King ran across the border into North Korea and was last seen being taken by a North Korean guard vehicle.
King had previous legal issues in South Korea while serving as a Cavalry scout with the Korean Rotational Force. On September 25, he assaulted a South Korean national without facing charges, and in October, he was involved in an altercation with the police, resulting in a $4,000 fine. He also completed hard labor in a correctional facility before confinement at a U.S. base.
King’s uncle, Myron Gates, described a disturbing phone call with King, where the private’s mental health problems were escalating, and he expressed fears of racism and threats against him. No official records of racism allegations were found by defense officials.
The Pentagon reported that North Korea acknowledged a request for information but did not provide details. Franks expressed the family’s frustration with the lack of substantive communication from the Army. However, the Army insisted that King’s unit had maintained constant contact with his family.
An Army spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, reassured the DCNF, saying that King’s mother was notified within 24 hours of her son’s actions. Since the notification, an Army commander continues communicating with her via telephone several times weekly.”