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A Utah man who disappeared after hiking in China 12 years ago purportedly is living in North Korea, has a family there and has worked as an English tutor for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
David Sneddon, who was a 24-year-old BYU student when he was last seen in southwestern China's Yunnan Province on Aug. 10, 2004, was abducted and taken to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where he is now teaching English, says an article posted to Yahoo Japan on Wednesday.
Sneddon also is believed to have a wife and two children, Choi Sung-yong, head of South Korea's Abductees' Family Union, told the Japanese news outlet.
These reports confirm theories the Providence family has had for nearly a decade, said Roy Sneddon, Sneddon's father, on Thursday.
"To us, the ideas are not new," Roy Sneddon said. But his wife, Kathleen Sneddon, added that they are taking these reports with some skepticism.
"We have no proof that it's reliable, to be honest," Kathleen Sneddon said, adding that they are waiting for confirmation from a Japanese organization.
"Until then, we don't know for sure, but you know, it doesn't matter," she said. "We in our hearts think he's alive. We think he's probably teaching English. That's the most likely thing to use him for."
The idea that he is married, Roy Sneddon said, is something that came to their attention years ago by a Japanese woman who had been abducted by North Korea, as well as by people in Japan who had worked with abductees.
"It should be emphasized that that is part of the [North] Korean plan," Kathleen Sneddon said. "If [North Korea] captures you, [they]'re going to give you a wife; you have children, so you settle down and like it [there], and you enjoy it and give [them] your best."
When David Sneddon disappeared in 2004, he was believed to have fallen and died in Tiger Leaping Gorge, near Lijiang in Yunnan Province. He had left some extra gear with an innkeeper near Lijiang and was planning a two-day trek through the gorge, a rugged and treacherous trail popular with intrepid backpackers.
About 200 Chinese searchers combed the gorge carved by the River of Golden Sand between the 18,000-foot Dragon Snow and Jade Snow mountains. Two bodies were recovered, but neither turned out to be David Sneddon, according to a report his family received from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing about a month after the disappearance.
Additionally, the Sneddon family found locals who recalled seeing David Sneddon outside the gorge.
About two weeks after David Sneddon was discovered missing, Roy Sneddon and two of his oldest sons went to Yunnan Province, he said. During that visit, Roy Sneddon became suspicious that the Chinese government may have suspected that his son was involved with the underground railroad, which smuggled people out of North Korea, through safe houses in China and eventually to Laos or Cambodia.
Because David Sneddon had been a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South Korea, Roy Sneddon said, he had learned the language well. While in Beijing, David Sneddon had spent the evenings teaching Korean to children of a woman from Korea.
One of David Sneddon's former mission companions had stayed with him for a few days after the Chinese government asked the companion to leave the country, said Roy Sneddon, who added that the former mission companion had been writing a story about North Koreans who had fled their home country and been living on the Chinese border.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has established an international commission of inquiry in 2013 into North Korea's "systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights ... including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states."
David Sneddon's parents do not believe their son died hiking, and they hold out hope that they will find him alive. They have created a website containing information about David Sneddon, his disappearance and updates they have received.
They have been working with politicians inside and outside Utah to try to launch an investigation in conjunction with the U.S. State Department.
In February, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a resolution, HCR114, which, among other things, encourages the State Department and the intelligence community to investigate the possibility of North Korea's involvement in David Sneddon's disappearance, and to seek his recovery. The resolution also helps draw attention from members of the public, as well as support from fellow lawmakers, Stewart told The Salt Lake Tribune over the phone Thursday, adding that he hopes it will be voted on this fall.
Stewart who said Thursday that the State Department had not yet launched an investigation has been working with the Sneddon family since he took office.
He said his son served an LDS mission in South Korea and knew David Sneddon.
"We're sensitive to the family," Stewart said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about this, and we just want to help them know ... if David is alive."
Despite the "enormous effort" it would take to conduct an investigation, Stewart said he is "committed" to putting forth the effort.
"It's the duty of the United States government to follow all leads to locate a missing citizen," Stewart said in a February news release. "The evidence indicates that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about David's disappearance. David's family deserves answers to those questions."
While he is concerned about his own son, Roy Sneddon suggested that all Americans should be concerned about "a bigger picture."
"We, as a family, are concerned of course about David," Kathleen Sneddon continued. "But our hearts, our thoughts, our prayers go out to all the people of North Korea, who've been held in subjection, without freedoms, without adequate, normal essentials for living a pleasant life: food, clothing, housing. ... We just feel all of North Korea needs to have something happen there, and we would hope that somehow David being released could help this."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.