The family of Travis King, the Racine soldier held in North Korea, is making a public plea for his return to federal officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, as she was in the area Thursday to tout the president’s economic agenda.
Harris was asked by TMJ4 reporter Charles Benson at Thursday’s event what more could be done to help return King to the U.S. and whether or not she has spoken to or met with the family.
“First of all, it’s just tragic,” Harris said. “I know how his family is suffering and we’re doing everything we can to bring him home. The Department of Defense is working actively on this, through our State Department, there’s a lot of activity on this. And we’re gonna do everything we can to bring him home.”
Members of King’s family lined the streets in Pleasant Prairie with images of King on T-shirts as the vice president’s motorcade drove by. King is a 2020 graduate of Park High School in Racine.
The family told national media outlets in recent days that they have contacted federal elected officials offices, including Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, and Rep. Bryan Steil.
U.S. officials say King, 23, bolted across the border on July 18 while on a public tour at the Demilitarized Zone. A day before, the U.S. Army private was supposed to travel to a base in the U.S.
He recently served two months in a South Korean prison for assault and was scheduled to return to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he could have faced additional military discipline and discharge, but departed the airport before boarding his plane.
King’s mother, Claudine Gates, told ABC News Wednesday that she doesn’t believe her son would have risked his life by escaping across the heavily fortified area.
“Travis would not just go over the border like that. He’s the type of kid he would’ve wanted to come home,” she said. “He knew just going across the border is basically committing suicide.”
The family added in the interview that King was struggling mentally months prior to his disappearance. He had been sending the family cryptic messages by phone or text.
“When he first went to Korea, he was sending pictures home and he was just so happy. And then, as time went on, he just started fading away. I didn’t hear from him anymore,” Gates said.
Gates said her life “just changed in the blink of an eye. … I was a very, very happy person. And now, I just worry.”
On Tuesday, U.S. officials confirmed that North Korea responded to a communication from the American-led United Nations Command, but said it was a simple “acknowledgement” that King was in the country and nothing further.
Drake Bentley can be reached at DBentley1@gannett.com.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Travis King’s family pleads with Vice President Kamala Harris for help