Traveling abroad is usually a positive experience. You have the ability to learn about different cultures, taste foreign foods, and meet people from all walks of life. That said, it can be intimidating, especially with possible language barriers and culture clashes—or worse, as one American family recently found out.

David Sneddon was a well-traveled college kid who took a trip East to explore and digest all the wonders of China. Then, his parents received some terrible news. What happened to David soon led to a bizarre mystery even the highest government officials couldn’t unravel…

In 2004, a student at Brigham Young University named David Sneddon decided to travel to China. Having previously completed a mission in South Korea, he was no stranger to Asia. Still, no amount of traveling could have prepared him for what he was about to face.

David’s father, Roy, told The Washington Post that his son wanted to learn Mandarin. “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.” That’s when everything went haywire.

While hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic trail near the Burmese border, David vanished. Eventually, Chinese officials delivered his family the bleak news.

The Chinese government told Roy and Kathleen Sneddon that their son had tragically fallen to his death. Worse, his body couldn’t be recovered. Yet the Sneddons—who had 10 other children—didn’t buy the story. Something just wasn’t right…

Find David Sneddon / Facebook

“There’s no evidence of that—zero,” Kathleen exclaimed. If it were true, he’d have been the “only American missing in China since World War II whose body has not been found and whose whereabouts remain unknown.”

Fox News via the Sneddon Family

Raising further doubts for the family was the fact that David had hiked all over the world; it just didn’t seem likely that he’d slip and fall on such a highly-trafficked, tourist-friendly trail. So Roy formed a plan to find out the truth…

Find David Sneddon / Facebook

Roy recruited two of his other sons, Michael and James, to head to Yunnan and see if they could find David. When they visited the Leaping Tiger Gorge a month after David’s disappearance, they saw police officers with bloodhounds patrolling the area.

Outside Online

“It was ridiculous,” Michael Sneddon said of the cops. The effort, the family assumed, was all for show. “We just laughed and said thanks.” Though they didn’t find David at the gorge, the family did pick up a valuable piece of information.

Help Find David

A tour guide at the Leaping Tiger Gorge told the family that he’d walked the entire trail with David. In fact, the owner of a hostel at the end of the hike even confirmed David had stayed there!


The Sneddons kept searching, showing locals pictures of David wherever they went and picking up more clues here and there. A cafe owner in Shangri-La said she’d seen David and could describe him. But then, they reached a dead end.

Help Find David

Roy deferred the investigation to the U.S. State Department. Unfortunately, it believed the Chinese government; as far as the department was concerned, David was dead. But then in 2011—seven years after David disappeared—Kathleen received an interesting phone call…

Bringing David Sneddon Home / Facebook

Nicholas Craft, an attorney and expert on North Korea, noticed that David’s disappearance matched the typical pattern of North Korean government kidnappings. He called Kathleen and relayed this theory to her.

“I just thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard,” Kathleen said. But North Korea expert Melanie Kirkpatrick believed otherwise, saying, “If you know the history of North Korea’s kidnappings of foreign nationals, it’s not so crazy.”


In fact, when Melanie considered the evidence, abduction made almost too much 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.”

KSL News

Melanie also claimed that, in 2013, Japanese politician Keiji Furuya told her, “It is most probable that a U.S. national has been abducted to North Korea.” But the most telling evidence surfaced in 2016…

U.S. Government’s East Asia and Pacific Media Hub / Flickr

That was when a South Korean organization that specialized in North Korean kidnappings claimed informants inside Kim Jung-un’s regime confirmed that David had been kidnapped. Still, the story would become even more wild…

KSL News

Other sources inside Japan also claimed David had been kidnapped – and was forced to tutor Kim Jun-un himself in English! That information was corroborated by Choi Sung-yong, the head of Seoul’s Abductees’ Family Union.

Sung-yong continued by stating that David now went by Yoon Bong Soo and had married a woman named Kim Eun Hye. However, that information came with a caveat: he was only about 50 percent sure the information was reliable.

The Washington Post via The Japan Times

Further complicating the issue, some officials in Washington believed that the Japanese government only raised suspicions about kidnapped Americans so the United States would intervene—and help abducted Japanese citizens in the process!

Unfortunately, all of the evidence pointing toward David Sneddon’s kidnapping was circumstantial, and the U.S. State Department said there was “no credible information to substantiate the idea that he has been abducted.”

KSL News

The Sneddon family stuck with what they felt was convincing evidence compiled by in-the-know experts. “My thought initially,” Roy Sneddon said, “is they [North Koreans] mistook him for someone who was trying to move North Koreans out.”

Korean Central News Agency via NY Daily News

The Sneddons didn’t give up their search. Roy and Kathleen turned to Congress for help, and in June 2017, Utah senator Mike Lee and Representative Chris Stewart urged President Donald Trump to find definitive answers.


In the meantime, the Sneddon family found comfort 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.

Stuart Johnson / Deseret News

As of March 2018, David had not been found and no additional information alluded to his whereabouts. The Sneddons’ search continued nonetheless. “As parents and family, we cannot give up,” Kathleen said. “We have to keep looking.”

Bringing David Sneddon Home / Facebook

The mystery of David Sneddon is still unraveling today. Hopefully, his family can get the answers they deserve soon.

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