Looking pale and drawn, American missionary Robert Park was on his way home Saturday after being freed by North Korea, which detained him for illegally crossing its border from China on Christmas Day.
North Korea announced Friday it would free Park, 28, saying he had shown "sincere repentance." Park was detained 43 days. Park crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea carrying letters calling on leader Kim Jong Il to close the country's notoriously brutal prison camps and step down from power — acts that could risk a death sentence in the totalitarian nation.
The North Korean government "decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration," the official [North] Korean Central News Agency said. The report quoted Park as saying he was ashamed of the "biased" view he once held of the communist nation, and that he was now convinced "there's complete religious freedom for all people everywhere" in North Korea.
And also quoted him saying, "I would not have committed such crime if I had known that the (North) respects the rights of all the people and guarantees their freedom and they enjoy a happy and stable life."
Park did not respond to questions from reporters Saturday asking whether he had been speaking freely or under duress.
"We are just elated that he's been released safely," the Rev. Madison Shockley, a Park family pastor in Carlsbad, California, said by phone. "We cannot wait for him to land on American soil and to hear the truth of what he discovered there."