As It Happens

U.S. family believes North Korea kidnapped relative to teach Kim Jong-un English

Utah student David Sneddon went missing on a trip to China 12 years ago. Now, his family says they're not surprised by a report that he has been held in North Korea to teach English to Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
When David Sneddon went missing in 2004, authorities feared he died in a hiking accident. But new reports claim he was abducted by North Korea to teach English to government officials. ( Maye-E/AP)
Twelve years ago, David Sneddon disappeared.

In 2004, the 24-year-old Utah student went on a trip to China. He hasn't been seen or heard from since. Chinese authorities figured he died in a hiking accident. But Sneddon's family were never convinced.
David Sneddon was fluent in Korean and lived in Korea for two years as a missionary for his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (

Now, a strange story emerging out of Japan is giving them renewed hope. Sneddon, according to the recent report, did not die. Instead, he'd allegedly been abducted and taken to North Korea to teach English to government officials — including the country's leader Kim Jong-un.

"In terms of him coming home, I think we are closer," David's brother, James Sneddon, tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "The family has heard about this possible scenario from many different sources."

North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

According to Sneddon, the report supports evidence the family has already been compiling. Sneddon says he visited Tiger Leaping Gorge, the location Chinese authorities claimed the fatal accident occurred.

"We obtained multiple witnesses both through, and most importantly, on the other side of the gorge," Sneddon recalls. "Seventy miles beyond the end of the gorge we had extremely credible witnesses that said that they actually spent time with him."

Michael and James Sneddon returned to the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail where Chinese authorities reported David Sneddon had died in a hiking accident. (

Sneddon says it's reasonable to assume his brother could have been kidnapped because of his fluency in Korean. Not to mention, he says rumours that David was involved with helping refugees flee North Korea would have made him even more of a target.

"If people were monitoring or observing they would have certainly seen those skills," Sneddon speculates. "Our belief is he's probably reasonably well treated at this point because he is an important asset."

David Sneddon's missing poster. (

Reports claim that David is now married with two children. Sneddon says the US government is supporting the search for his brother and the family regularly updates a blog to track any new information. Sneddon admits if the reports are accurate his brother is now living a very different reality but he still hopes the family will eventually reunite.

"He's kind of living, you could say, a quasi-normal life, but he doesn't have any freedom to live as he feels he would like and he's kind of forced into this family environment," Sneddon explains.

"I would like to just hear about his life, hear how he is doing, ask him about his family and reassure him that whatever he chooses next for himself and his family that we support him."

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with James Sneddon. 


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