June 17, 2024

‘Father Figure’ Travis King, US Soldier Who Crossed into North Korea, Fears Caused Extinction

A relative of Travis King, the 23-year-old American citizen who crossed into North Korea on Tuesday, fears he had a last conversation with a US Army private who sent him over the edge and across the border of the Korean Peninsula.

Carl Gates, King’s first uncle on his mother’s side of the family, told The Daily Beast that he had an emotional conversation with King when the soldier called to check in on him the weekend before the crash.

“Basically I was crying at the family for not being here for me … when my son was going through what he was going through. And, and so I didn’t have any words of encouragement to give him because I was upset with the family,” Gates said, referring to the recent death of his 7-year-old son. “He was saying he was sorry, he loved us all. And that he’s sorry he couldn’t be here for me.”

Gates – who said his priority was always to support King, “taking care of children and changing diapers” in the absence of his biological father – lost his young son, King’s first cousin, in February this year to a rare genetic disorder. The tragedy fueled more tension within the family – and deeply affected King, who “stopped” and started acting out after his cousin’s death, his uncle said.

“Giving me what hurts me right now, I feel like I gave him bad feedback, bad intelligence on a family,” Gates said of their last conversation, explaining that he feared his words sent the King into an emotional spiral questioning whether his own family would “have his back” while he was serving overseas.

“I didn’t give my nephew a warm welcome, like ‘Everything is fine with the family, they’ve been supportive!’ And this and that. It was more like: ‘Fuck the family, they weren’t here for me, they weren’t here for your cousin.’ And I don’t know man. Maybe that prompted him to say, to hell with everything.”

“That’s what bothers me,” he said through tears, adding that King joined the military to make his family proud. I said the wrong thing. Instead of giving him words of comfort, I gave him words: ‘Rebel! Rebel against the family. Good luck everyone, no one’s here for us anyway.”

King’s crossing into North Korea came after the private soldier spent nearly two months in detention in Korea due to disciplinary issues. He was reportedly facing two assault charges among other alleged offenses in recent months.

The soldier, a cavalry scout who has served in the army since 2021, was scheduled to travel back to Fort Bliss, Texas on Monday. Officials said CBS Instead of boarding his flight, the private soldier – who was taken to customs and passed through airport security – left the airport and went on an organized tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea.

I definitely blame myself.

King was initially behaving normally on Tuesday, according to eyewitness accounts from civilians who were part of the same group. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he started “running very fast, very fast towards the North Korean side,” one tourist said Sky News. “I thought it was some kind of stupid stunt he was doing for TikTok or something. I thought it was a really stupid thing to do in a place like that.”

Following the incident, the United Nations command, which operates the DMZ, ordered released a statement stating: “A US National on a JSA orientation trip, without authorization, crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and is working with our KPA colleagues to resolve this incident.”

In comments later Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration was working with South Korea on the issue of King’s unauthorized crossing, adding that the “primary concern at this time is to ascertain his well-being and get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

In the case of King Gates’ uncle, the fear that he might inadvertently excommunicate his nephew was exacerbated by the loss of his own son. “I definitely blame myself. And I gave him bad feedback and instead of pulling him up and going through my trauma, I put that on him. I didn’t give him anything positive to come home to,” he said.

Speaking about his wish he said in his last conversation with the King, Gates said he wished he had told his nephew “that the family and everything was good and peaceful. Get him home, and we’re there for him – me and my sister Claudine,” referring to King’s mother, who Gates said supported her during the loss of her child.

“He’s like a son to me. And it always will be. And I’m even more broken because we’re still grieving. The family is still grieving the loss of my son,” Gates said. “And now we don’t know what’s going on with him. We may never see him again. They don’t tell what they’re going to do to him over there.”

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