Kenneth Bae home after two years in North Korean prison

by: KIRO 7 Staff Updated:

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LYNNWOOD, Wash. - Kenneth Bae arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord where he was reunited with family and friends shortly before 9:00 p.m. Saturday.

Bae, a 46-year-old Lynnwood resident, had been held for two years in a North Korean prison while his family back home in Washington worked tirelessly with lawmakers in the state and around the country to secure his release. 

Both Bae and his sister, Terri Chung, spoke to reporters shortly after Bae's arrival. They both thanked U.S. and Swedish diplomats, as well as Bae's supporters.

"It's been an amazing blessing to see so many people involved," Bae said. "Thank you for supporting me and lifting me up and not forgetting me."

"Thank you for all your prayers and support and love," he said.

Bae appeared to be in good spirits. He carried his own luggage off the plane and joked about losing weight during his imprisonment.

"It's been an amazing two years. I learned a lot, grew a lot, lost a lot of weight, in a good way," said Bae, smiling.

Facing reporters, and surrounded by family members, Bae also asked that the people of North Korea not be forgotten.

Matthew Miller, the other American detainee freed from North Korea, arrived Saturday night and was greeted by family. He did not speak to reporters.

Saturday morning KIRO 7 learned that Bae and Californian Matthew Miller were on their way to Joint Base Lewis McChord.

It was a secret trip to North Korea by the director of National Intelligence that finally secured Bae’s release.

"I do ask the U.S. government and people out there to really put effort to send somebody,” he told a CNN reporter in September.

Exactly five minutes—to the second—is all that was seen of him then as he pleaded for this very outcome. 

Someone could be heard counting down off-screen during that interview with Bae in a North Korean prison.

In a statement from Bae's family Saturday, his sister and biggest advocate Terri Chung said, "Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home!" 

Two weeks ago Chung told KIRO 7 she was hopeful after learning another American held for six months in North Korea had been freed.

"It's just that kind of moment of hope and could it possibly be that this could happen?" she told KIRO 7’s David Ham on Oct. 21.

Statements of excitement and support poured in from Washington state politicians. 

By phone Saturday Sen. Patty Murray told KIRO 7 only time will tell how the release of Bae and Miller will impact U.S. relations with North Korea.

"Certainly the State Department will continue to work on those relationships,” said Murray.

Murray said right now the focus should be on Bae, soon to be reunited with the family who never gave up on him.

Bae's sentence of 15 years hard labor came after North Korea charged him with planning a religious coup against their government. 

Bae always said he was just a missionary. 

Joanna Small and Nick McGurk contributed to this story.