Aijalon Gomes

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Aijalon Gomes
Born Aijalon Mahli Gomes
(1979-06-19)June 19, 1979
Boston, Massachusetts,[1]
Died November 17, 2017(2017-11-17) (aged 38)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Bowdoin College
Occupation Teacher
Known for Arrest and detention in North Korea
Country  North Korea
Detained January 25, 2010
Released August 26, 2010
Days in detention 213
Reason for detention Illegally entering North Korea[1]

Aijalon Mahli Gomes /ˈɑːlɒn ˈɡmz/[2] (June 19, 1979 – November 17, 2017) was an American teacher who was detained in North Korea for illegally entering the country via China on January 25, 2010. On August 27, 2010, it was announced that former U.S. president Jimmy Carter had secured Gomes's release. In May 2015, Gomes published an autobiography, Violence and Humanity.[3] In November 2017, he was found burned to death in what was ruled a suicide.[4]

Early life[edit]

Gomes was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2001 and subsequently went to South Korea to teach English.[5]

Arrest in North Korea[edit]

For two years prior to his arrest, Gomes taught English at Chungui Middle School in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea for the GEPIK teaching program. As a devout Christian, who regularly attended the Every Nation Church in Seoul, it is thought that he crossed into North Korea to act as a missionary and offer humanitarian aid. Another worshiper at the same church, Korean-American Robert Park, had illegally walked into North Korea one month before Gomes did, but was released after being detained there for six weeks.[6]

Gomes wrote in his autobiography that he had initially planned to enter North Korea directly from South Korea by crossing the Korean Demilitarized Zone in Cheorwon on January 18, 2010, but found himself unable to navigate the area on foot. On January 24, he flew from South Korea to China's Yanji Chaoyangchuan Airport and travelled to Tumen City. On January 25 he crossed the Sino-Korean border by walking across a frozen stretch of the Tumen River into North Korea, where he was immediately apprehended by border guards for illegal entry.[1] On April 6, 2010, he was sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 (USD).[7] He was allowed to speak to his mother by phone on April 30, 2010.[8]

In June 2010, North Korea threatened "harsher punishment" if the United States continued its "hostile approach" in the follow-up to the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean warship. It was concluded by the United Nations Security Council that the ship had been sunk by a North Korean submarine. North Korea denied any involvement, and warned that if the dispute continued, they would be compelled to consider "applying a wartime law" to Gomes, which could mean a life sentence or even the death penalty.[9] The following month, Gomes was reported to have been hospitalized following a suicide attempt.[10]


Starting in April 2010, a sustained human rights letter-writing campaign sprang up to insist upon Gomes' release.[11][12] In August, a U.S. consular delegation visited Pyongyang to request permission to bring Gomes home, but were unsuccessful.[13] Shortly afterward, former president Jimmy Carter flew out to North Korea to personally negotiate Gomes' release.[14] The Obama administration stressed that this was a private humanitarian effort, and that Carter was acting solely in his capacity as a private citizen, and not on behalf of the United States government.[15] Carter arrived in Pyongyang on August 25,[16] and on August 26, Gomes was released.[17] The Korean Central News Agency reported that "Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes' illegal entry into North Korea and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again".[18]

On his repatriation to the U.S., family members reported that Gomes was a little thin but was otherwise in good physical health.[2] Asked in an interview whether he had suffered torture in North Korea, Gomes responded that "there were moments of violence and of humanity."[19] His remark became the title of his self-published 2015 autobiography, Violence and Humanity.[3]


Gomes died on November 17, 2017 in the Mission Bay Park part of San Diego. Gomes was 38 years old at the time, had recently moved from Boston to San Diego, and was believed to be homeless at the time of his death. He was spotted on fire in a dirt field, running, and then collapsing.[20][21] His death was ruled a suicide by the San Diego County Medical Examiner, whose report found that Gomes had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder following his release from North Korea.[4][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c M.G., Aijalon [sic] (2015). Violence and Humanity. ISBN 9780990841104.
  2. ^ a b Contreras, Russell (Aug 27, 2010). "American Imprisoned in N. Korea Returns to Boston." Boston Globe. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Conversation: Aijalon Gomes". Charon QC. 23 December 2015. Archived from the original on 28 June 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b Figueroa, Teri (February 12, 2018). "ME office: Ex-North Korean prisoner who burned to death in San Diego killed himself". San Diego Union Tribune. Archived from the original on March 5, 2018.
  5. ^ Goodnough, Abby; Zezima, Katie (27 August 2010). "Carter's Trip to North Korea Answered Boston Family's Prayers". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 February 2017.
  6. ^ Xaykaothao, Doualy. "Why Did Aijalon Gomes Cross Into North Korea?". NPR. Archived from the original on August 31, 2010. Retrieved August 26, 2010.
  7. ^ "North Korea sentences American to 8 years". USA Today. April 7, 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  8. ^ Rollins, Krister (May 1, 2010). "American in jail in North Korea speaks with mother on the phone". Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  9. ^ "North Korea threatens US prisoner Aijalon Gomes". BBC News. June 24, 2010. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  10. ^ Ravi Somaiya (July 9, 2010). "American Prisoner Attempts Suicide in North Korean Gulag". Newsweek. Archived from the original on August 25, 2010. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  11. ^ Woods, Mark (27 February 2011). "A man of letters - and action". Florida Times-Union. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014.
  12. ^ Shoicet, Catherine. "Freed American arrives home from North Korea",, 27 August 2010, Retrieved on 25 September 2014.
  13. ^ "Yonhap News" (in Korean). Yonhap News. August 17, 2010. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  14. ^ Lim, Bomi (August 23, 2010). "Carter to Go to North Korea to Release Prisoner, Reports Say". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on August 27, 2010. Retrieved August 24, 2010.
  15. ^ "Exclusive: Jimmy Carter headed to North Korea on rescue mission | The Cable". Archived from the original on August 28, 2010. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  16. ^ "Ansalatina – Norcorea: Carter en gestiones para liberación de estadounidense". January 3, 2010. Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  17. ^ "North Korea releases Boston man held since Jan. to ex-President Carter; gov't grants amnesty". The Associated Press. Retrieved August 26, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ CNN Wire Staff (Aug 27, 2010). "Freed American Arrives Home from North Korea" CNN. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  19. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe; Ramzy, Austin; Rich, Motoko (14 June 2017). "Otto Warmbier Got an Extra Dose of Brutality From North Korea. The Mystery Is Why". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Winkley, Lyndsay; Figueroa, Teri (November 21, 2017). "Prisoner freed from North Korea with help of President Carter found burned to death". The San Diego Union-Tribune.
  21. ^ "Prisoner freed from North Korea in 2010 found burned to death in San Diego". Fox5. 21 November 2017.
  22. ^ Horn, Allison (12 February 2018). "San Diego County Medical Examiner releases details about former North Korean prisoner's death". ABC 10News. Archived from the original on 13 February 2018.