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PROVIDENCE, Cache County — The family of a BYU student who vanished in China in 2004 says a Japan news source is reporting what they have believed for a long time: He was abducted by agents of the North Korean government.
David Sneddon is believed to now have a wife and two children and lives in Pyongyang, where he teaches English, Yahoo Japan's report claims. According to the article, Kim Jong-un, the dictatorial leader of North Korea, is one of Sneddon's former students.
Sneddon's family also learned Wednesday that the U.S. Department of State is formally launching an active search for him in North Korea.
His parents have previously said they quickly grew skeptical of authorities' explanation that he likely drowned while hiking in the Yunnan Province in western China in 2004.
Among the reasons for their skepticism was that Sneddon's body was never recovered, they said. Their belief is that Sneddon, who was 24 at the time, was wanted by the North Korean regime for training purposes because of his fluency in Korean.
Sneddon grew up in Nebraska, but his parents now live in Providence. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South Korea.
The recent news out of Japan was met with joy and hope this week by Sneddon's loved ones. However, the family already felt confident their son was alive.
His mother, Kathleen Sneddon, said the report about her son being in North Korea "doesn't surprise me at all."
"We just knew in our heart that he was alive, so we had to keep fighting," she said Wednesday.
Earlier this year, members of Utah's congressional delegation urged lawmakers in Washington to investigate whether Sneddon had in fact been abducted and taken to North Korea.
“The evidence indicates that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about David’s disappearance," Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement at the time.
"David’s family deserves answers to those questions," Stewart said, "and until we find those answers, I will continue urging the State Department to pursue all possible explanations for David’s disappearance.”
The Sneddons said they're grateful for progress in their son's case after all these years, but they believe their son is likely just one of many who have been abducted and held captive in North Korea.
"One young man from Utah is a sad and woeful story. But when you look at the total number," Roy Sneddon, David's father, said haltingly through tears. "Pray for the people of North Korea that their lives will change."
Contributing: Nicole Vowell