Video courtesy of USA Today
(RNS) Jeffrey Fowle, released by North Korea on Tuesday (Oct. 21), is an unlikely figure to find himself at the center of diplomatic tensions: a 56-year-old municipal worker from Ohio and father of three.
Fowle, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was arrested by North Korean authorities in May as he was attempting to leave the country after visiting with a tourist group. He acknowledged leaving a Korean-English Bible in the restroom of a North Korean restaurant and nightclub in the coastal city of Chongjin several days earlier.
The official North Korean news agency, KCNA, said he entered the country April 29 on a tourist visa and “acted in violation” of the country’s laws “contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.” North Korea does not allow religious proselytizing and treats it as a crime.
Those who know Fowle say he was driven by a taste for adventure rather than religion or politics.
“Jeffrey loves to travel and loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places,” his attorney, Timothy Tepe, of Lebanon, Ohio, said in a statement earlier this year.
“Mrs. Fowle and the children miss Jeffrey very much and are anxious for his return home.”
Fowle is a municipal street worker in Moraine, Ohio, near Dayton. His wife, Tatyana, 40, is from Russia, and they have three children, two boys and a girl, ages 9, 10 and 12.
Mark Edward Howard, who attends the same church as Fowle and his family, called him “a very good Christian father.”
He said that Tatyana Fowle, a cosmetologist, has limited English and that her husband always stayed close to her side in case she needed a translator.
“They are pretty much inseparable,” he said in June. “You never see him not by her side. They’re a very nice family.”
In early September interviews with Western news organizations while being held, Fowle said he had been allowed to speak with his wife and children.
“I’m desperate to get back to them,” he said then.
According to a 2010 story in the Dayton Daily News, Fowle met his wife by correspondence and traveled to Russia for an in-person meeting.
Her mother later migrated from Russia to live with them after they married in 2000. They marked their 14th wedding anniversary on Sept. 30, while Fowle was being held prisoner.
He told the Dayton newspaper in 2010 that like every married couple, he and Tatyana disagree now and then. But he said they are deeply committed to each other. “We’re in it for the long haul,” Fowle said.
Fowle was classified as a $31-an-hour equipment operator. The city terminated his employment last month because he had exhausted his leave while being detained, but officials said he will be eligible for reinstatement.
(William M. Welch writes for USA Today.)
MG END WELCH