The mother of US Army private Travis King, who was charged with desertion after he fled into North Korea over the summer, said her family plans to "fight the charges" brought against him, including allegations that he was in possession of child sex abuse material.
Claudine Gates and Dan Jovanovic, Mr King's mother and stepfather, spoke to ABC News and insisted the charges against their son do not reflect the "peaceful person" they know him to be.
"The actions that the Army is saying that what he's doing is not Travis. He's not like that. He's a good boy," Ms Gates said.
Mr King had reportedly been detained by South Korean law enforcement for punching someone in a Seoul nightclub. He was sentenced to 47 days in a South Korean detention facility and was scheduled to be returned to the US for disciplinary procedures in July.
Rather than return to the US, Mr King fled into North Korea across the Demilitarized Zone, where he was taken into custody by DPRK forces. He was released in September and is now being held in pre-trial detention in El Paso, Texas.
His parents said they were concerned that his mental health had deteriorated, and said they were left wanting after asking the US military for updates on his condition. They said Mr King seemed "very drowsy and tired" when they saw him two weeks ago in Texas.
"I didn't think that they were doing any harm to him or anything … But he seemed like he was still withdrawn," Mr Jovanovic said.
The parents told the news outlet that Mr King had signed papers preventing him from speaking on why he fled to North Korea and what occurred when he was in DPRK custody. Ms Gates said her son "seemed very worried."
In addition to his desertion and the disciplinary actions pending from his nightclub encounter, Mr King was also accused of soliciting lewd photos from an underage girl in exchange for money, according to a charging document.
EXCLUSIVE: Travis King’s mother and stepfather tell @LinseyDavis the eight counts leveled against the U.S. Army private charged by the Army with desertion do not align with the “peaceful person” they know.
More on @ABCNewsLive at 7PM ET. pic.twitter.com/cXPy6xcvmK
— Good Morning America (@GMA) October 25, 2023
His mother said she was "blindsided" by the accusation that he was seeking child sex abuse materials, and his father said the claim was "100 per cent-plus out of character" for the man.
"That's not him, period," he said.
They said Mr King lost his phone during his time in South Korea and theorised that perhaps someone else used it to solicit the photos.
"If you got all these devices accessible or laying around and everything, God only knows how that manifested itself in there," Ms Gates said.
Mr King's parents said he hated alcohol and drunkenness and criticised the Army for not intervening when he apparently began drinking to excess in South Korea.
"They should have given him some type of help and got him off that juice," Mr Jovanovic said. "Something had to be done about it so it [didn't] escalate to being worse, which I think that's what happened."
An Army spokesperson speaking to ABC News said that "to protect the privacy of Private King, the Army will not comment on the details of ongoing litigation. Private King is presumed innocent of the charges until proven guilty."
Ms Gates said she was "afraid" for her son.