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U.S. student reportedly kidnapped in China in ’04, forced to tutor North Korean dictator

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An American college student who vanished in China 12 years ago and was believed to have died was in fact abducted and forced to work as Kim Jong Un’s personal tutor in Pyongyang, where he remains up till today, according to a South Korean activist organization.

In August 2004, 24-year-old David Sneddon, the then Brigham Young University student, disappeared while hiking in China’s Yunnan Province. When Chinese police and the U.S. Embassy could not find him, China said Sneddon likely fell to his death in Tiger Leaping Gorge — a theory his parents did not believe plausible.

On a website devoted to the search for Sneddon, his family claimed that they believe Sneddon was kidnapped by North Korea and is being held hostage there. The claim appears to have stemmed from information gathered over the years and recent comments from Choi Sung-yong, head of South Korea’s Abductees’ Family Union.

A Japanese news source reported on Wednesday that Sneddon was abducted by agents of the North Korean government and whisked away some 2,500 miles from the Chinese province where he vanished.

Yahoo News Japan also reported that Sneddon became an English tutor to Kim Jong-un, the dictatorial leader of North Korea, and is now believed to have a wife and two children. The news outlet, which cited South Korea’s Abductees’ Family Union for the information, said Sneddon lives in Pyongyang, where he teaches English.

According to the Deseret News, Sneddon’s parents said they believe their son was taken by the North Korean regime for training purposes because of his fluency in Korean.

Sneddon, who grew up in Nebraska, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South Korea, the newspaper reported.

His mother, Kathleen Sneddon, told the paper that the report about her son being in North Korea “doesn’t surprise me at all.”

“We just knew in our heart that he was alive, so we had to keep fighting,” she said, according to the paper.

The newspaper also reported that the State Department announced on Wednesday it has launched an investigation into Sneddon’s disappearance.
After members of Utah’s congressional delegation asked lawmakers in Washington to probe whether Sneddon had been abducted by North Korea, came the reported investigation.

The province where Sneddon disappeared is in the far southwest corner of China, bordering Vietnam, Laos and Burma. Sneddon’s father and two brothers encountered a dozen eyewitnesses who saw and interacted with Sneddon before he disappeared more than 70 miles beyond the gorge when they traveled to China to retrace his footsteps.

Sneddon’s family said they have renewed hope in their son’s case, while also noting the number of people believed to have been abducted by the regime.

“One young man from Utah is a sad and woeful story. But when you look at the total number…” Roy Sneddon, David’s father, told the Deseret News. “Pray or the people of North Korea that their lives will change.”

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