WELLINGTON, New Zealand: When Sarah Leslie witnessed an American soldier begin running toward North Korea, she initially believed she was seeing a ruse.
Tourists from New Zealand, Leslie, and her father, traveled with a group to the Demilitarized Zone separating South and North Korea on Tuesday morning from Seoul.
Although he was dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt and Leslie had no knowledge that he was in the military or involved in legal issues at the time, Pvt. 2nd Class Travis King was one of the 43 visitors; she told The Associated Press.
King, a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division, was 23 years old and had served over two months in a South Korean prison for assault. He was freed on July 10 and was scheduled to return to Fort Bliss, Texas, on Monday. He would have been subject to more military punishment or even be discharged from the service there.
In Panmunjom, Leslie said her tour group went further than most by accessing the Joint Security Area, which practically allowed visitors to tread onto North Korean land inside one of the jointly controlled buildings. She explained that they had to present their passports and obtain permits to participate in such a tour.
Leslie observed King walking alone and appearing to avoid interacting with other tour participants as the group left Seoul early on a bus. She claimed that he had purchased a DMZ hat from a gift shop.
Tuesday afternoon’s tour was coming to a close; the group had just left the building and was lounging around taking pictures when she noticed King sprinting “really fast.”
Leslie stated, “At first, I imagined he had a friend filming him in some incredibly ridiculous stunt or joke, like a TikTok, the most stupid thing you could do. “But then I heard one of the soldier shout, ‘Get that guy.'”
According to Leslie, one of the American soldiers who patrolled the region with South Korean troops shouted the order.
However, the soldiers were pressed for time. She claimed that King crossed the boundary and vanished from view after dashing about 10 meters (30 feet) down a little alleyway between the recognizable blue buildings. In a matter of seconds, it was all over.
There were no individuals on the North Korean side, according to Leslie. The tour group had been informed that North Koreans there had been hiding out ever since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
After King fled, according to her, the troops hurriedly herded all the visitors into a structure before transporting them to an information center where they were asked to provide statements. Many of the tourists, including her father, according to her, weren’t present when King ran, but a soldier gave them an account of what happened.
People found it difficult to comprehend what had occurred, according to Leslie. Many people expressed shock. We stared at each other once we boarded the bus and left the area.
Leslie, a Wellington, New Zealand lawyer, claimed that she had long been interested in the Koreas due to her undergraduate politics studies and viewing of South Korean films.
She claimed she struggled to comprehend King’s decision to travel to North Korea.
She remarked, “I didn’t think anyone would ever want to do it.