Tourist who saw US soldier sprint to North Korea initially thought it was a stunt

by Michael Nguyen
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American soldier's sprint to North Korea

Sarah Leslie, a tourist from New Zealand, initially mistook an American soldier sprinting towards North Korea for a mere stunt. Leslie and her father were part of a group visiting the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates South and North Korea. Unbeknownst to her, Private 2nd Class Travis King, casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, was among the tourists. Leslie had no idea at the time that King was a soldier or that he was facing legal issues.

King, a 23-year-old cavalry scout from the 1st Armored Division, had recently served a two-month sentence in a South Korean prison for assault. Released on July 10, he was scheduled to return to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he might have faced further military consequences and possible discharge.

Leslie’s tour group had the unique opportunity to visit the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, a village on the Korean border. This area allowed tourists to step onto North Korean soil within jointly held buildings, a privilege requiring passport submission and advance permits.

During the tour, Leslie observed that King traveled alone and did not engage in conversation with others. At one point, he even purchased a DMZ hat from a gift shop. As the tour was nearing its end, with the group taking photos outside the building, Leslie witnessed King suddenly sprinting at a high speed.

Initially, Leslie believed it was a foolish prank or stunt captured on video, possibly for a TikTok. However, her perception quickly changed when an American soldier shouted, “Get that guy!” The soldiers, including South Korean troops, were responsible for patrolling the area.

Unfortunately, there was no time for the soldiers to respond. King ran approximately 10 meters down a narrow passageway between the distinct blue buildings, crossed the border, and vanished from sight in a matter of seconds.

Leslie noted that she did not see any people on the North Korean side, as they had been informed earlier that the North Koreans were lying low due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following King’s escape, the soldiers promptly ushered all the tourists into a building and later took them to an information center to provide statements. Leslie’s father and several other tourists had not witnessed King’s dash, but they were briefed on the events by a soldier.

The shocking incident left the tourists in disbelief. Leslie described their collective reaction as they stared at each other on the bus, unable to comprehend what had just occurred.

As a lawyer from Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, Leslie had developed an interest in the Korean Peninsula during her university studies in politics and exposure to South Korean films. She struggled to fathom why King would willingly venture into North Korea, stating, “I just didn’t think anyone would ever want to do that.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about American soldier’s sprint to North Korea

Q: What was the initial reaction of the tourist who witnessed the American soldier sprinting towards North Korea?

A: The tourist initially thought it was a stunt and was taken aback by the American soldier’s sudden sprint towards North Korea.

Q: Who was the American soldier involved in the incident?

A: The American soldier was identified as Private 2nd Class Travis King, a cavalry scout from the 1st Armored Division.

Q: Why was the American soldier casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt?

A: The soldier’s casual attire was unexpected to the tourists. It is unclear why he chose not to wear a military uniform during the tour.

Q: What legal trouble was the American soldier facing?

A: Prior to the incident, Private 2nd Class Travis King had served nearly two months in a South Korean prison for assault.

Q: What was the purpose of the tour group’s visit to the Demilitarized Zone?

A: The tour group’s visit to the Demilitarized Zone was to explore the area that divides South and North Korea and to experience the unique opportunity of stepping onto North Korean soil within jointly held buildings.

Q: How did the soldiers and tour group react to the American soldier’s sprint?

A: The soldiers quickly shouted to apprehend the soldier, but he managed to cross the border and disappear before they could respond. The tour group was then escorted to a building for their safety and later taken to an information center to provide statements.

Q: Were there any repercussions for the American soldier’s actions?

A: As the soldier had already served his sentence in a South Korean prison, he was supposed to travel back to Fort Bliss, Texas. There, he could have faced additional military discipline and possible discharge from the service.

Q: Did the tourist group have any prior knowledge or warning about the incident?

A: The tourist group had not been informed about the American soldier’s intentions or his legal troubles. They were taken by surprise when the incident occurred.

Q: Why were the North Koreans not visible during the incident?

A: The tour group had been informed that the North Koreans in that area had been lying low due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why they did not observe any individuals on the North Korean side.

Q: What was the overall reaction of the tourists after the incident?

A: The tourists were shocked and found it difficult to believe what had just happened. They shared a sense of disbelief and confusion as they processed the unexpected turn of events.

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