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The primary anxiety invading the American public with regard to North Korea concerns their burgeoning nuclear program and their ambition to create missiles capable of reaching our shores. It is easy to forget the horror that is everyday life for those unfortunate enough to live on the Northern half of the Korean peninsula: as former South Korean president Kim Young-Sam articulated, “all of North Korea is a jail.” That visceral, oppressive reality was brought tragically to the forefront by the recent death of American student Otto Warmbier and has refocused attention on a similar case.
David Sneddon was 20 years old when he disappeared from Southern China in 2004. A Mormon missionary on a backpacking trip, David set out to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province and was never heard from again. Authorities chalked his death up to a fall, but the family–and others–remain unconvinced. The lack of human remains on a relatively easy trail, possible sightings at a nearby guest house, and a string of circumstantial evidence point to an alternative theory: he was kidnapped by North Koreans.
What initially sounds “preposterous,” might not be so, claims Melanie Kirkpatrick, author of Escape from North Korea. “If you know the history of North Korea’s kidnappings of foreign nationals it’s not so crazy. There have been cases in at least 12 countries of people who have disappeared and who have been proved to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents,” she says in a new documentary for CBC. The theory is bolstered by insiders claiming to have seen David in Pyongyang–however, it has received little attention from the State Department.
SAM COLBERT: Roy and Kathleen say they received some help from the U.S. government right after David went missing. But lately they’ve been kept in the dark.
KATHLEEN SNEDDON: Government just…it is not to their politically advantage to support this idea.
SAM VOLBERT: Especially with the American government standing off with North Korea over its nuclear program. But the Sneddons are hopeful.
ROY SNEDDON: My scenario for David’s release is Kim Jong un gets his back to the wall and says: “Oh! By the way, did you know that David Sneddon is here? Would that be of interest to you?” And he becomes a bargaining chip.
The State Department has pointed to a lack of solid evidence for the theory, instead focusing its attention on the three other Americans known to be captive in the country.
Listen in to the full CBC documentary here.