Bakersfield man held in North Korea, US officials request release

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A Bakersfield man being held in North Korea is the focus of an official request by the U.S. State Department.

Sources tell Eyewitness News that 24-year-old Matthew Todd Miller is a local resident, and his family is in Bakersfield. Wednesday, a State Department official said the United States is requesting his return.

Miller is one of two Americans recently detained by the North Korean government. With Miller's case, so far the only information on what happened comes from official North Korean reports.

Eyewitness News found a website that posts reports from the Korea Central News Agency. On April 25, the first report came out from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24," it states, apparently inverting his name. "on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry in to the DPRK to tour it. He had a tourist visa for the DPRK, but tore it to pieces and shouted hoarse that 'he would seek asylum' and 'he came to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter.'"

The government said that was a violation, and they were investigating.

Then, several weeks later a second American was detained. Reports list that as an Ohio man, 56-year-old Jeffrey Fowle. He reportedly left a Bible in a hotel room.

Then this Monday, official DPRK reports said investigations had confirmed suspicions about both men.

"According to the results of the investigation, suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies," the June 30 release said. And, it reported the government was "making preparations for bringing them before court on the basis of the already confirmed charges."

On Wednesday, Eyewitness News got a statement from the U.S. Department of State.

"We are aware of reports that U.S. citizens Matthew Miller and Jeffrey Fowle will face trial in North Korea," it said, adding that the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens is their greatest priority. "Out of humanitarian concern for Mr. Miller, Mr. Fowle, and their families, we request the DPRK release them so they may return home."

Another American citizen has been held in North Korea since November 2012. Reports show Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae has been convicted by a North Korean court and is serving a 15-year sentence. He's also accused of hostile acts against the state.

Wednesday's U.S. State Department memo also takes up the issue of Bae.

"We also request the DPRK pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care," it reads.

The State Department says they are not confirming Miller's hometown, "out of respect for the privacy of the families." But, it appears Miller was a 2008 graduate of Bakersfield High School.

Published reports indicate after Miller was detained, the State Department put out an updated warning about traveling to North Korea, even with organized tours. And, the statement on Wednesday "strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea."