KOREATOWN (CBSLA/AP) – Two of three Americans who arrived in the United States early Thursday morning after being freed from North Korea, where they had been imprisoned, have strong connections to the Southern California area.
Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-sung and Tony Kim were greeted by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, other top officials and first lady Melania when they arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C.
Shortly before 3 a.m. Eastern time, the president and first lady boarded the medical plane on which the men had traveled and spent several minutes meeting with them privately. The group then emerged at top of the airplane stairway, where the men held up their arms in an exuberant display.
The men were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where they are to be evaluated and receive medical treatment before being reunited with their families.
Pompeo had secured their release in Pyongyang after meeting with North Korean leader King Jon Un on final plans for the Trump-Kim summit.
Freed detainees Tony Kim and Kim Hak-sung, meanwhile, have lived and worked in the Southland and have strong connections here.
Tony Kim, who is in his 50s and has a master’s degree from the University of California, Riverside, had been teaching accounting at a Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, when he was detained in April 2017 and accused of committing unspecified criminal acts intended to overthrow the government.
The university is the only privately funded college in North Korea and was founded in 2010 with donations from Christian groups.
“The last few steps for him to be released seems to be going a lot slower than maybe the first year or the whole year,” his son, Sol Kim, told CBS2 Tuesday.
Neighbors told CBS2 that Kim’s family left their Riverside home Wednesday headed to Washington, D.C., to greet Kim when he arrived.
Kim Hak-sung, meanwhile, graduated in 2004 from a master’s program at the World Mission University, a Bible college in Koreatown.
“We are really excited that he’s coming back, safely,” dean of Mission University, Seonmook Shin, told CBS2 Wednesday.
Following his graduation, Hak-sung became an ordained pastor at the Oriental Mission Church in Koreatown in Los Angeles.
Hak-sung was also working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, in agricultural development at an experimental farm, when was detained in May 2017 for alleged anti-state activities.
Choon-Min Kang, the senior pastor at New Life Vision Church in Mid-City, told CBS2 his former student and mentee was in North Korea was doing missionary work, which included teaching agricultural techniques.
Following the news of his release, the Oriental Mission Church released a statement which read:
“Thank you God for allowing us to hear the good news. Missionary Kim Hak-sung has been released after being detained for one year in North Korea.”
Hak-sung is a naturalized U.S. citizen who is ethnically Korean but was born in China. He is married with an adult daughter. Prior to being arrested in North Korea, he and his wife had been living in China, where they were also doing missionary work.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)