As his parents wait for word of their son, who went missing in China more than a decade ago, there is a renewed push in Congress to search for him as suggestions emerge that he may be held against his will in North Korea.
Eight senators co-sponsored a resolution Monday to reinvigorate the investigation into the case of David Sneddon, expressing concern over his disappearance in 2004 and likely abduction by the North Korean regime.
The resolution calls upon the State Department and the intelligence community to enlist the help of governments in the Asia-Pacific region — China, South Korea and Japan — and to “consider all plausible explanations for David’s disappearance, including the possibility of abduction by the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, is leading the effort.
“The greatest threat to totalitarian regimes is the truth,” Lee said in an email to VOA. “It is in pursuit of the truth that I sponsored this resolution asking the State Department and the intelligence community to continue doing all they can to find David Sneddon.”
A State Department official told VOA Friday the U.S. embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Chengdu, China, have been “in regular contact with local authorities since David Sneddon was reported missing in China,” and that it will “continue to closely monitor this matter and raise it with Chinese authorities.”
The official added, “To date, we have seen no verifiable evidence to indicate that Mr. Sneddon was abducted by North Korean officials.”
Multiple resolutions on Sneddon have been introduced in Congress, with some passing the House and a Senate panel. Two American citizens are known to be detained in North Korea for crimes against the state — Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, and Otto Warmbier, who was a third-year University of Virginia student when he was arrested.
China finds no trail
Sneddon, a Brigham Young University student from Nebraska, vanished in August 2004 while touring China’s Yunnan Province after a term of language study in Beijing. Although there is no physical evidence or any eyewitness testimony, Chinese authorities have concluded that the then-24-year-old man most likely lost his way in the mountains and died after falling into the Jinsha River.
His family and some regional experts have long countered China’s position. The family collected a volume of evidence of Sneddon’s likely kidnapping, including multiple witnesses in what they call the Executive Report.
The family and their supporters argue the evidence points to the likelihood that North Korea, a country with a track record of abducting foreign nationals for the purpose of training its intelligence and military personnel in language and culture skills, could have snatched Sneddon.
His parents, Roy and Kathleen Sneddon, of Providence, Utah, recently told VOA they believe that David Sneddon, who can speak both Korean and Mandarin, is probably teaching English in the communist state, which shares a border with China.
“There’s a lot of proof that he’s totally alive, we don’t have his body, and [he] disappeared from China,” Kathleen Sneddon said. “The most logical place is North Korea because they do that sort of thing.”
Reports of Sneddon emerge
Late last year, the Abductees’ Family Union, a Seoul-based advocacy group for South Korean abductees in North Korea, raised the possibility that David Sneddon is being held captive by the regime.
“I received a call not too long ago from a source in Pyongyang that David was moved to a remote area in Mount Myohyang [160 kilometers north of Pyongyang] and is currently under special surveillance,” said Choi Sung-yong, head of the union during a recent interview with VOA. “There are also reports that Sneddon was seen at Chosun Red Cross Hospital and the Bongsu Church in Pyongyang.”
According to Choi, the missing student was taken to the North Korean capital via Myanmar on the orders of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who wanted an American to teach English in the capital.
David Sneddon, who is believed to be in his late 30s, goes by the name Yoon Bong Soo, said Choi, adding that he is married to a 37-year-old woman named Kim Eun Hye and has two children.
Roy and Kathleen Sneddon said the State Department has questioned the credibility of Choi’s claims and dismissed them. They said much of the support they initially received from the department faded after the change of administration from George W. Bush to Barack Obama.
“The term that the Department of State uses is there’s ‘no credible information to substantiate the idea that he has been abducted,’” Roy Sneddon said. “That would be anytime something comes forward, there is a statement that says they’re not credible from their point of view.”
Without much action being taken by the government to investigate, the Sneddons say they have been devoting their days to calling representatives in Congress to rally support.
“I was amazed by how many people in Washington bureaucracy were totally aware of David and were concerned and wanted to be helpful,” Kathleen Sneddon said. “I got the feeling from many of them that they thought there was validity to our whole situation.”
Suzanne Scholte, who heads the North Korea Freedom Coalition, has been helping the Sneddons. She believes there is a renewed interest in the case.
“We definitely feel that the Trump administration is taking this case more seriously than the Obama administration,” Scholte said. “So it may not be necessary to do all the works we did on the resolution, but we are ready to do it again if our government isn’t looking at this as it should be.”
The Sneddons said they have “absolute faith” their son is alive and will return to the family sometime, adding, “We love and miss him.”
This report originated with the VOA Korean service.