SEATTLE >> The family of the Lynnwood man who was freed by North Korea says the day they’ve been praying for has “finally arrived.”
Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood and Matthew Miller of Bakersfield, California, were flying back Saturday to the West Coast with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, after North Korea agreed to free the men following a secret mission, according to U.S. officials.
Bae, a Korean-American missionary with health problems, was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities. He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group to a North Korea economic zone.
“The day we’ve been praying for has finally arrived!” said Terri Chung, Bae’s sister, said in a statement. “Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home! We have been waiting for and praying for this day for two years. This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now.”
U.S. officials did not immediately provide details about the circumstances of the Americans’ release, including whether Clapper met with Kim or other senior North Korean officials. They said the timing was not related to President Barack Obama’s imminent trip to China, Myanmar and Australia.
Bae’s family thanked the U.S. government as well as the North Korean government for his release.
“I am thrilled to imagine hugging my brother soon. He will not have to spend another day at a labor camp. He can now recover from this imprisonment and look forward to his wife, kids and rest of his life. Our Thanksgiving celebration this year will be one we will never forget,” his sister said.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said Bae’s sister was persistent in her efforts to free her brother, recalling her trips to Washington, D.C.
“She did not give up and kept us on track working on it,” she said. “In every one of these cases, you wonder when and if it’s going to happen. It’s extremely difficult. His family was worried about his health. He was put in a labor camp, and as his ability to take care of himself deteriorated, the worry about his health was front and center.”
Miller was serving a six-year jail term on charges of espionage after he allegedly ripped up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport in April and demanded asylum. North Korea said Miller had wanted to experience prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human-rights situation.
Last month, North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was held for nearly six months. He had left a Bible in a nightclub in the hope that it would reach North Korea’s underground Christian community.
Associated Press writer Gosia Wozniacka contributed from Portland, Oregon.