A US student who supposedly died in China in 2004 has reportedly turned up alive in North Korea after being kidnapped to serve as Kim Jong Un’s personal tutor.
David Sneddon of Brigham Young University disappeared in Yunnan Province aged 24, in what Chinese police said was probably a hiking accident.
But the reality, according to Choi Sung-yong, head of South Korea’s Abductees’ Family Union, is that he was kidnapped to be an English tutor to the then-heir to North Korea Yahoo News Japan reported Wednesday.
Sneddon is now living in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, where he teaches English to children and has a wife and two children, Choi said.
The news comes as relief – but little surprise – to Sneddon’s parents, Roy and Kathleen, who have long doubted the official story of their son’s disappearance.
‘We just knew in our heart that he was alive, so we had to keep fighting,’ said Kathleen Sneddon.
Their suspicion was based in part on the fact that Sneddon’s body was never found after he was believed to have died in Tiger Leaping Gorge, a canyon on Yunnan’s Jinsha River that is highly popular with tourists.
The area is also one of a series of stops on the underground railroad that moves North Korean escapees to South-East Asia.
Sneddon had last been seen on August 14 leaving a Korean restaurant in Shangri-La, a town not far from the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail.
He was reported missing on August 26, when he failed to turn up at the airport in Seoul, South Korea, where he was to meet his brother.
Sneddon’s parents believe their son was targeted because of his fluency in Korean, which he used while serving on a Mormon mission in South Korea – but it wasn’t always this way.
‘We initially thought that China had picked David up thinking he was involved in the underground railroad, because a former companion of his had been teaching a North Korean family in Beijing,’ Roy Sneddon explained to Dailymail.com.
Roy and his sons began to visit Yunnan to put up posters and hand out flyers with David’s photo, as a way to cajole the Chinese authorities into giving him back.
‘We thought they might just say “We made a mistake” if we weren’t too confrontational,’ he explained.
But a few years on, they were contacted by a man with a very different idea.
‘I received a phone call from a US citizen near Seoul,’ Roy explained. ‘He said, “My wife was a defector so I’m in touch with a community of people who left North Korea.
‘”They tell me there is someone who matches the description of your son and he’s teaching English in Pyongyang.”‘
It was the confirmation they had hoped for – but they kept their expectations grounded.
And they are even more cautious about the reports that have come through this week.
‘Our contact said that this (Yahoo News Japan) reporter is not always accurate,’ Kathleen Sneddon said. ‘Sometimes he’s spot-on and sometimes he’s not.
‘Right now we’re saying we’re “Hopefully optimistic.”‘
This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.