In an exclusive interview with ABC News, the mother and stepfather of Travis King, the U.S. Army private who was charged with desertion for crossing into North Korea, have expressed their determination to fight the charges against him. King’s family is not only shocked by the allegations but deeply concerned about his mental health and the treatment he has received during his detention.
Claudine Gates and Dan Jovanovic, King’s mother and stepfather, reacted with disbelief to the eight charges leveled against King last week, including desertion, possession of child pornography, assaulting fellow soldiers, and disobeying a superior officer. These accusations stand in stark contrast to the “peaceful person” they know Travis to be.
“The actions that the Army is saying that he’s doing is not Travis. He’s not like that. He’s a good boy,” Gates said in the interview.
Travis King, aged 23, allegedly crossed the demilitarized zone from South Korea into North Korea in late July, a move that led to his release by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in September. Currently, King is being held in pre-trial detention in El Paso, Texas.
King’s parents voiced concerns about his mental state, describing their recent reunion with him in Texas as troubling. “I didn’t think that they were doing any harm to him or anything… But he seemed like he was still withdrawn,” said Jovanovic.
Both parents revealed that King had signed paperwork that prevented him from disclosing details about his detainment in North Korea and the reasons for crossing into the country. The Army has also remained tight-lipped regarding these matters.
Despite efforts to contact King, his parents have not heard from him since their reunion.
One of the most shocking charges against King involves the possession of child pornography, stemming from an alleged solicitation of lewd photos from a Snapchat user. Gates and Jovanovic expressed their disbelief at this accusation and noted that they had learned about the charges from the news. “That’s not him, period,” Jovanovic stated, emphasizing that this charge is entirely out of character for their son.
King had reportedly lost his phone in South Korea, potentially making his social media account susceptible to misuse.
Before his journey to North Korea, King had been detained in South Korea due to an incident at a Seoul nightclub in October 2022. He allegedly assaulted a victim, resulting in a 47-day detention in South Korea. King was released in July and was meant to return to the U.S. to face disciplinary procedures. However, he failed to do so and instead crossed into North Korea.
His parents emphasized that King was not one to indulge in alcohol, even disapproving when family members did so at gatherings. They described a young man who was often solitary, enjoyed video games, independently read the Bible, and exhibited good manners.
Gates and Jovanovic criticized the Army for not providing treatment to address King’s apparent issues with alcohol, which they say began in South Korea. “They should have given him some type of help and got him off that juice,” Jovanovic said.
The Army did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News. Army spokesperson Kimbia Rey stated that “to protect the privacy of Private King, the Army will not comment on the details of ongoing litigation. Private King is presumed innocent of the charges until proven guilty.”
Travis King’s parents are left grappling with a mystery surrounding their son’s actions and treatment. They hope for resolution and that King will open up about what transpired during his time in North Korea.
“He’s got to open up so we can get these matters resolved, and he can go on with his life, you know? I’m sure the military would like to see that too… I don’t really believe they want to hurt him… They just want to get the truth out there. And if they’re responsible for some of it, I think they’ll own up to it,” Jovanovic said.
As for King’s current incarceration in Texas, Gates expressed her fear for her son’s well-being.
The situation continues to unfold, and more details may emerge as the legal proceedings progress.