LOS ANGELES — An American missionary who strode illegally into North Korea on Christmas Day and was detained by the communist regime for 43 days was welcomed back to the United States Saturday evening in an emotional reunion with family members at Los Angeles International Airport.
Robert Park was greeted by his parents and brother in a private location at the airport after arriving on a commercial flight from Beijing. Earlier Saturday, the 28-year-old Korean-American from Tucson, Ariz., flew to the Chinese capital from Pyongyang.
The family stopped briefly for reporters as they left the airport in their car. A thin and pale Park said nothing and kept his eyes downcast while his brother, Paul Park, told reporters that he's in good condition.
"Hugging him, there didn't seem to be anything broken," he said.
Robert Park crossed the frozen Tumen River from China into North Korea on Dec. 25, 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 have risked execution in the hard-line communist country.
North Korea announced Friday that Park would be freed.
North Korea disclosed nothing about Park during his 43 days in custody before announcing Friday that he would be freed and saying Park now viewed the nation favorably on religious freedom and human rights.
The North Korean government "decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration," the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The report by North Korea's government mouthpiece quoted Park, of Tucson, Arizona, as saying he was ashamed of the "biased" view he once held of the communist nation.
KCNA claimed Park said he was now convinced "there's complete religious freedom for all people everywhere" in North Korea, citing the return of his Bible and a service he attended at Pongsu Church in Pyongyang.
"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," it quoted him as saying.
Rev. John Benson, a pastor in Tucson, Arizona, who ordained Park as a missionary, said he was skeptical of Park's statements Thursday, which he said sounded like "propaganda," and said Park may be able to speak freely once he's back in the U.S.
"It totally did not sound like Robert at all," Benson said.