Come out, come out, wherever you are. For the parents of a Mormon missionary from Utah in the United States, that phrase has new meaning. For the last twelve years, Kathleen and Roy Sneddon hoped and prayed their son, David, lived. In 2004, Chinese officials in Yunnan province informed the Sneddons that their then 24-year-old son had died while hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a famed tourist spot on the Jinsha River. However, they did not recover David’s body, leaving open the possibility that there was more to the story. A new report suggests that David is alive and well – in North Korea.
David was last seen August 14, 2004, leaving a Korean restaurant in Shangi-La. Twelve days later he failed to show up for a meeting at an airport in Seoul and was reported missing. When Chinese officials reported him dead, his family was unsure. They feared the Chinese government had thought David was a smuggler, helping North Koreans escape the hermit kingdom through an underground railroad network. After traveling to China and passing out flyers bearing David’s face, the Sneddons received an invitation to share their story on the Voices of America radio show.
The international broadcast eventually led a South Korean to call David’s parents. Roy and Kathleen learned the man’s wife was a recent North Korean defector. Her network of associates agreed that there was an American, living in Pyongyang, who matched David’s description. Subsequent investigations by a Yahoo News Japan reporter confirmed the claims, going so far as to pronounce that the American in question is David. The reporter found evidence to show that, beginning in 2005, David Sneddon became the personal English teacher to Kim Jong-un. Not yet Supreme Leader, the son of Kim Jong-il needed tutoring and David’s fluency in Korean made him an attractive teacher. While no longer connected to North Korea’s ruler, David continues to teach English in the capital city and has a wife and two children.
While American politicians work to verify the truth of the claims, David’s parents are hopeful they may eventually see their son again. According to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the communist nation has a history of kidnapping foreigners. By Japan’s count, North Korea kidnapped 17 of its citizens during the reign of Kim Il sung. South Korea counts nearly 4,000 kidnapped citizens since the 1953 Korean Armistice. Among those kidnapped were the actor-director couple of Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok. From 1978-1986, the two made propaganda films for the Workers Party of Korea. This total included Pulgasari, a Godzilla-inspired movie about a monster created by a blacksmith to kill an evil king. Eventually, when attending a film festival in Vienna, Choi and Shin escaped. Hopefully Kim Jong-un sends David Sneddon to a spelling bee where he, too, can make a break for freedom.