Getting The Call
After what she heard on the phone, she dropped it to the ground. There was a voice on the other side that had an effect on her. Without speaking a word, she gestured towards her husband to come over.
The voice on the other end of the line had some news about her son, Davi. But that was impossible, he had been missing for seven years.
David Sneddon was a bright young student that looked forward to a life full of adventure. He loved cultures and travel, so he left the U.S. for China to see a world he had never seen.
This wasn’t David’s first time in Asia, he had been to South Korea before. But nothing could have had him ready for what he was about to experience when he got there.
A Strange Case
“His course work was done, so he said he was going to take a look around some touristy spots in southeast China before he came back,” David’s dad, Roy, told The Washington Post.
David’s trip was a mystery that even the best of the government officials couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. Where had David gone?
The last time his mother heard from him was an email he sent to her explaining how excited he was to do some adventuring in China. He only had three weeks to spend in the country, so he created a schedule to stick to.
“If you never hear from me again,” he wrote, “look for my body in the western Yunnan Province of China or the Yellow Mountains of Anhui. Just kidding. No, I’m really so excited.” Although he was joking, it seemed that his email would only be an omen.
Biking In Paradise
David headed for Yangshuo with his roommate from university, George Bailey. They backpacked through a beautiful town along the Li River.
But after biking together for that weekend, the two went their separate ways. George’s journey took him north while David’s took him west, to Yunnan.
It was a Monday morning when David parted ways with his friend to catch a bus west. George woke up from the commotion and decided to wave his friend out.
David shouted “See you in Provo,” before turning and walking out the door. Little did either know that those would be the last words ever spoken between the two.
When there were no emails letting them know how he was, his family started to worry. Maybe he had just forgotten? But soon they’d realize how much more sinister things were.
But they knew for sure that there was something horribly wrong. His older brother, Michael, was waiting for him in Seoul, but David would never arrive.
David was hiking close to the border of Burma. The trail was called Leaping Tiger Gorge, but he would never make it off of the trail. No one would see him after that.
It was like he just disappeared. Chinese officials broke the news to his parents and they couldn’t believe it. But something was wrong about this.
David’s parents, Kathleen and Roy, had been told that their son had fallen off the trail and his body wasn’t recovered. They couldn’t believe it.
They couldn’t believe what they had just been told. The story didn’t sound right in their minds. This wasn’t the end of David’s story, but merely the beginning.
“There’s no evidence of that—zero,” Kathleen said. If it was right, then he’d be the only American whose remains couldn’t be found in China since World War II.
They knew their son, he was a veteran hiker. He wouldn’t have made such a reckless mistake on the a tourist trail that amateurs hike on. What was really going on?
Roy was determined to find out what had really happened to David, so he enlisted the help of two of his other children, Michael and James.
Together, the boys traveled to Yunnan to try and find their missing brother. A month after David had disappeared, they reached the Leaping Tiger Gorge, where they were met with a suspicious sight.
Putting On A Show
“It was ridiculous,” Michael Sneddon said. When they reached the area, the hiking trail was crawling with policemen and their K-9 units, putting on a desperate show for the benefit of the two brothers.
“We just laughed and said thanks,” Michael added. But, while David was nowhere to be found, the brothers did come across a valuable piece of the puzzle.
At the Leaping Tiger Gorge, a tour guide told the siblings that he’d known David personally. In fact, he’d walked with him along the entire trail!
This story was then corroborated by a hostel owner at the end of the hike. Apparently, David had stayed there. The clues were all pointing to the fact that David had walked the trail successfully, but where was he now?
The Sneddon family kept searching for something… anything… that would indicate that David was alive. They showed the locals pictures of him, and wherever they went, they found more clues that David had been there.
A cafe owner in Shangri-La said he’d met him and could even describe him, but that’s where the trail suddenly grew cold.
Roy got the U.S. State Department involved. But, as far as the department was concerned, David had met his end in the Gorge.
They believed what the Chinese government told them. Roy and Kathleen’s hands were tied. It was only in 2011 — seven years after David’s disappearance — that they got a bizarre call.
The man on the end of the line was Richard Craft, an expert on North Korea and a formidable attorney.
He told Kathleen that all the details about David’s disappearance, in his experience, pointed to North Korea. He’d been studying the pattern of typical North Korean government kidnappings and all the clues fit. Kathleen couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“I just thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard,” Kathleen recalls. But Melanie Kirkpatrick, a North Korea expert, believed otherwise.
“If you know the history of North Korea’s kidnappings of foreign nationals, it’s not so crazy,” she explained. So, what had really happened to David? And where was he now?
It Made Sense
Melanie combed through the evidence and everything made perfect sense.
“We know that North Korean operatives were active in that region [Yunnan] around the same time David was there—with China’s full permission,” she said in a shocking statement. But she had more evidence to support her theory.
Malanie claimed that Japanese politician Keiji Furuya told her, “It is most probable that a U.S. national has been abducted to North Korea,” back in 2013.
But the most convincing evidence only surfaced in 2016. An informant had come forward with new information, according to a South Korean organization that specialized in North Korean kidnappings.
Some sources inside Japan made some wild claims about David’s whereabouts; namely that he had been kidnapped by North Korean officials and forced to teach Kim Jun-un English!
This information was even corroborated by Choi Sung-yong, who was the head of the Abductees’ Family Union in Seoul. Could these claims possibly be true?
A New Name
Sung-yong then went on to provide more information, stating that David had changed his name and now went by Yoon Bong Soo and that he had also married a woman named Kim Eun Hye. Could that be why nobody could track David down?
There was one problem with this information, though…
Not 100% Sure
Sung-yong’s information came with a caveat: he was only about 50% certain that the information was reliable. David’s parents couldn’t afford to get their hopes up just to discover that none of the information about their son was true.
And, besides the unreliability of the information, something else complicated the issue further.
Some officials in Washington believed that the Japanese government had an ulterior motive when it came to David, the missing U.S. citizen.
They believed that Seoul’s Abductees’ Family Union was only raising suspicions about kidnapped Americans and drawing attention to David’s story so that the United States would intervene—and help abducted Japanese citizens in the process!
The U.S. State Department then said that all the evidence that had been uncovered in David’s case was purely circumstantial.
The U.S. State Department said there was “no credible information to substantiate the idea that he has been abducted.” What could David’s parents do now?
Now, the Sneddons were stuck with evidence that they felt was convincing enough for them to believe that David’s disappearance did indeed have something to do with North Korea.
“My thought initially,” Roy Sneddon said, “is they [North Koreans] mistook him for someone who was trying to move North Koreans out.”
Never Giving Up
The Sneddons weren’t about to give up the search for their missing son, though. They decided to take another step forward and try to get help from congress.
In June 2017, Utah Senator Mike Lee and Representative Chris Stewart urged the U.S. president to find some definitive answers.
But while the Sneddons waited and prayed for a break in the case, they took comfort from wherever they could.
“If my son has a part in helping North Koreans have a normal life in any way, I would just be thrilled,” Kathleen said.
As of March 2018, David had still not been found. Even worse, no additional information surfaced to give any definitive answers about his whereabouts. But, the Sneddons’ search continues nonetheless.
“As parents and family, we cannot give up,” Kathleen said. “We have to keep looking.”