The soldier who crossed the North Korean border Tuesday had previously been arrested in South Korea for getting into a fight with two South Korean nationals, and for damaging a police car, Army Times has learned.
A U.S. official told Army Times that Pvt. Travis King, a 23-year-old cavalry scout on rotation in South Korea as part of the 1st Armored Division, was arrested on Oct. 8, 2022, following an altercation with two South Koreans. King also damaged a local police officer’s patrol car, the official said.
According to Reuters, King pleaded guilty to assault and destruction of public goods related to the October incident, and on Feb. 8, he was fined approximately $4,000 by the Seoul Western District Court. Army Times could not independently confirm whether the October arrest and the February fine reported by Reuters were from the same incident.
King had been held on assault charges and was released on July 10 and was being sent back to Fort Bliss, Texas, on Monday, the Associated Press previously reported.
The cavalry scout was awaiting an administrative separation from the Army upon his return to the U.S. due to his overseas criminal conviction, a U.S. official confirmed to Army Times.
After being taken to the airport, and escorted to customs, King then left and slipped in with a tour group headed to Panmunjom, the Korean border village. Once there, on Tuesday afternoon, local time, he dashed across the border, one that’s often filled with tourists and monitored by guards on both sides.
Upon reaching the North Korean side of the border, King was detained.
A statement from Col. Isaac Taylor, a spokesperson for U.S. Forces Korea, released shortly after the news of the border crossing broke, described King, whose identity was not released at the time, as a U.S. service member who “willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stressed the fluid nature of the incident, saying “We’re closely monitoring and investigating the situation and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin.”
Austin added that “This will develop in the next several days and hours, and we’ll keep you posted.”
According to Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee, King joined the service in January 2021. He has no deployments and during his Korean Force rotation, he was originally assigned to the 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. Because his unit went home while he was in jail, King was administratively attached to a unit from the 4th Infantry Division when he crossed the border.
King’s awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal, and Overseas Service Ribbon.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.
James is the managing editor of Military Times and the editor of Army Times. Prior to Military Times, James worked as the deputy editor of Task & Purpose. He is a former Marine Corps combat correspondent and deployed twice to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment — first to Marjah in 2010, and then to Kajaki and Sangin in 2011.