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Man released by North Korea commits suicide

December 19, 1996

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) _ Evan C. Hunziker would never say much about the three months he was held in North Korea as a spy suspect before diplomatic negotiations won his release just in time for Thanksgiving.

Family and friends may never know what happened to the 26-year-old missionary in the communist country.

On Wednesday, Hunziker was found dead of a gunshot wound in the head in a ramshackle hotel where he had spent much of his boyhood.

The medical examiner’s office ruled the death a suicide. A .357-caliber handgun was found at the scene, police spokesman Jim Mattheis said. There was no note.

``I am very saddened by this sudden turn of events,″ said Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., the U.N. ambassador-designate who helped secure Hunziker’s release from North Korea, where he was held on charges of spying for South Korea.

``Evan was a gentle young man who sought peace for all people. I express my heartfelt condolences to the Hunziker family.″

His release was seen as a gesture by North Korea to thaw relations strained by his Aug. 24 arrest and by the September incursion of a North Korean submarine into South Korean waters.

Hunziker, who said he entered North Korea from China ``out of curiosity and to preach the Gospel,″ was discovered in the basement-level restaurant-bar area of the downtown Olympus Hotel, owned by relatives of his Korean mother, Jong Nye Hunziker of Anchorage, Alaska.

Edwin Hunziker was bewildered by his son’s death.

``I don’t know what happened to this young fellow. I thought he was doing so well″ since he got back from North Korea, the elder Hunziker said in an interview at the modest home he shares in suburban Parkland with his wife, Dorothy, and their two dogs.

Just after his son returned home, the elder Hunziker noticed two red marks on the lower part of his throat that looked like rope burns, he said. Evan wouldn’t answer questions about them, but the North Koreans said he had tried to kill himself, the elder Hunziker said.

In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called Hunziker’s death ``a very, very sad case.″

``He went through a lot in his imprisonment in North Korea,″ Burns said, adding that his remarks did not imply the North Koreans were responsible for Hunziker’s death.

The elder Hunziker said his son had problems with drugs after high school.

``That little experience over there and the drugs he was on before probably did it,″ Hunziker said. ``If he had got some help, he probably would still be around.″

Evan refused to talk about his time in North Korea, his father said. ``The only thing he would tell me and everyone else who tried to talk to him was that they treated him humanely and they had (lousy) food.″

After arriving home the day before Thanksgiving, Hunziker spent the holiday with his father and stepmother. He then moved to a trailer park where his mother has a mobile home and began working the desk and spending some nights at the Olympus Hotel, which city officials had been trying to shut down for safety and health reasons.

``He was an absolute sweetheart,″ said Mary Payne, 24, a hotel resident who had known Hunziker for five years.