‘Bad Joke’: Soldier Detained In North Korea Ran Across Border Laughing After Escaping From Escort, Witness Says

(Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. soldier detained in North Korea on Tuesday laughed as he broke away from his civilian tour group and crossed the line of demarcation into North Korea, CBS News reported, citing a person in the same tour.

The soldier, whom local media identified as Private 2nd Class Travis King, had passed airport security on his way back to the U.S. for disciplinary reasons when he somehow escaped his escort and joined a group to visit the border, CBS News reported, citing U.S. officials. Another person who claimed to witness the crossing while moving through the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) said the man suddenly laughed and darted out of sight between buildings, according to the outlet.

“This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings,” the witness told the outlet.

King was being transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, from a South Korean prison where he was being kept on assault charges and was set to face additional disciplinary action, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

“I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy,” the witness told CBS News. (RELATED: US Nuclear-Capable Sub Visits Asian Ally For First Time In Decades Amid North Korean Threats)

Military personnel reacted quickly to the situation, the witness added, according to CBS News. The remaining members of the group were hurried back to the JSA’s Freedom House where their witness statements were collected.

The group then returned to their bus, CBS News reported.

“I’m telling you this because it actually hit me quite hard,” the witness told the outlet. “It was on the way back in the bus, and we got to one of the checkpoints … . Someone said we were 43 going in and 42 coming back.”

Local media said the man crossed the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom into North Korea at 3:27 p.m. local time, or 2:27 a.m. Eastern, according to CBS News.

“A U.S. Service member on a JSA orientation tour willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” Col. Isaac Taylor, a spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea, said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation, using the formal name for North Korea. “We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our [Korean People’s Army] counterparts to resolve this incident.”

No soldiers were seen at the area where the soldier allegedly ran, according to CBS News. Very few individuals choose to attempt a crossing, as many face death.

U.S. officials previously said the man “willfully” crossed into North Korea and was taken into custody, according to CBS News.

He was not in uniform at the time of the crossing and had participated in the tour as a civilian, a U.S. defense official told CNN.

“This was a deliberate decision on part of the service member to cross,” one U.S. official told The Washington Post.

Private companies organize tours to the DMZ, located roughly 30 miles north of the South Korean capital of Seoul, according to NBC News. The U.N. also hosts tours for its own staff.

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