The Intriguing Case of David Sneddon: New Japanese Report May Shed Some Light


Erika Marchant

“David, we haven’t forgotten you. We pray and work tirelessly for your safe return,” were the pleas of Roy and Kathleen Sneddon in August of 2004. Parents of David Sneddon, a twenty-four year old student at BYU at the time, searched tirelessly for their missing son, who had last been seen on a hike in China’s Yunnan province.

August 10th of this year marked twelve years since the abduction of Sneddon, who had been presumed by to be dead by Chinese authorities, possibly having fallen at Tiger Leap Gorge near the Jinsha River on 14 August 2004.

A Missing poster for David Sneddon, posted on a power pole on Leaping Tiger Gorge trail. Photo:

The Sneddon family has since made relentless efforts to locate David, as well as to promote their son’s case, including a website and Facebook page.

Two weeks after his disappearance, Roy Sneddon and two of his sons visited the Yunnan Province. As they learned that the area is one of a series of stops on the underground railroad–which moves North Korean escapees to various locations throughout South-East Asia– Roy found that the Chinese government suspected his son to be involved.

A couple of people that are sitting on top of a mountain
Roy, Michael, and James Sneddon in Tiger Leaping Gorge. Photo:

‘We initially thought that China had picked David up thinking he was involved in the underground railroad, because a former companion of his had been teaching a North Korean family in Beijing,’ Roy Sneddon told

While David Sneddon had been a missionary in South Korea at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he’d developed a sufficient understanding of the Korean language. While in Beijing, Sneddon had spent evenings teaching Korean to children of a woman from Korea.

Not until April 2011, however, did David’s family finally receive an explanation that satisfied their suspicions. After having appeared on the international radio channel, Voice of America, the family received an important phone call from a former high-level U.S. official who called with a shocking theory, one they hoped would lead them one step closer to bringing their son home.

‘I received a phone call from a US citizen near Seoul, Roy explained. ‘[The caller] said, “My wife was a defector so I’m in touch with a community of people who left North Korea.'”They tell me there is someone who matches the description of your son and he’s teaching English in Pyongyang.”‘

Aware of North Korea’s reputation of kidnapping foreigners, they believed the regime had taken their son for his fluency in Korean.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and officials. Source: © KCNA KCNA / REUTERS/REUTERS

Further supporting the theory that David Sneddon had been in possession of North Korea in May of 2012, the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea obtained Chinese security documents indicating that in August 2004, a 24-year-old American studying at a Chinese university was arrested in Yunnan province on charges of aiding illegal residents.

According to the documents, China’s authorities had released the American and he’d ended up in the hands of North Korean secret agents who were in the area, searching for defectors. All clues pointed to one conclusion: it had to be David.

Allegations of North Korea’s frequent kidnappings were not something unheard of when this news had surfaced. In 2013, an article in The Wall Street Journal stated, “Pyongyang is believed to have kidnapped nationals of at least 12 countries.” According to Outside Online, “after Kim Jong Il began efforts to strengthen his intelligence operations [in 1796], the nation started targeting linguists who could teach foreign languages to North Korean spies selected to carry out operations abroad.”

Recent claims in the media, most notably Yahoo News Japan’s news report, have offered some support to this theory. Last Wednesday, August 31st, Yahoo News Japan reported that Mr. Sneddon had been spotted in North Korea, where he is believed to live. He reportedly works as an English teacher, and has a wife and two children, as told by Choi Sung-yong, head of South Korea’s Abductees’ Family Union.

“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 , and you enjoy it and give [them] your best.”

“It’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea that a nation-state might have picked up your kid from a foreign country… But after the conference, we thought it might be a 75 percent chance. The North Korea thing was just a puzzle piece that seemed to fit,” said Kathleen Sneddon.

Photo: Bringing David Louis Sneddon Home Facebook Page
Photo: Bringing David Louis Sneddon Home Facebook Page

“To us, the ideas are not new,” Roy Sneddon said, although his wife, Kathleen Sneddon, added that they are considering these recent reports with 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. ‘Our contact said that this (Yahoo News Japan) reporter is not always accurate,’ Kathleen Sneddon said. ‘Sometimes he’s spot-on and sometimes he’s not… Right now we’re saying we’re “hopefully optimistic.”‘

It was announced last Wednesday by the US Department of State that an extended search for David Sneddon in North Korea will be put in place.

Stewart and Lee introduce resolution on behalf of David Sneddon. Source:
Stewart and Lee introduce resolution on behalf of David Sneddon. Source:

Representative Chris Stewart (who serves on the US House Intelligence Committee) stated, “David’s family deserves answers to those questions, and until we find those answers, I will continue urging the State Department to pursue all possible explanations for David’s disappearance.”