Is North Korea Kidnapping US Citizens in China?

The parents of an American college student who disappeared in China in 2004 said they are convinced their son was kidnapped by the North Korean regime to teach English and is alive inside the Hermit Kingdom -- citing a plethora of circumstantial evidence collected over the years indicating an abduction.

David Sneddon, a 24-year-old student at Brigham Young University, was last seen in August 2004 hiking through China's Yunnan Province. His parents, as well as sources inside Japan and South Korea, believe Sneddon -- a devout Mormon fluent in Korean who would be 37 now -- was kidnapped by North Korean agents to serve as an English tutor, possibly to Kim Jong Un, the nation’s dictator.

The Chinese government claims Sneddon -- an experienced traveler who had served as a missionary in South Korea -- plunged to his death while backpacking through Tiger Leaping Gorge and drowned. But Sneddon's body was never found and his family members -- several of whom retraced his footsteps -- do not believe China's explanation.

When Sneddon failed to meet his brother days later in Seoul, South Korea, his family immediately contacted the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. An official there told Kathleen Sneddon, "You can’t lose an American in China," and dismissed her concerns, she said.

Skeptical of the Chinese police reports, Roy Sneddon and his two other sons flew to China in September 2004 and walked the very trail David had hiked. Along the way, the three showed David's photo to the locals, many of whom recalled seeing a young man matching his description.

One tour guide said he had walked the entire gorge with Sneddon until they reached a youth hostel at the end of the hike called Tina's Guesthouse -- indicating Sneddon made it across alive.

The search for David took the family to the small tourist city of Shangri-La -- not far from Tiger Leaping Gorge -- where a cafe owner said she met David, describing his appearance and what food he liked to eat. Then the trail grew cold. The Sneddon family said it believes David was snatched by North Korean agents who mistakenly thought he was helping North Korean defectors, given his religious background and unique linguistic skills.

"Thus far, we have not been able to verify any information suggesting that David Sneddon was abducted from China by North Korean officials or is alive in North Korea, but we will continue our efforts to search for any verifiable information," said a State Department spokesperson for the East Asia and Pacific Bureau.

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