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Thursday, December 19, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former Captive's Life Troubled

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

EVAN HUNZIKER, found dead yesterday, was arrested by North Korea in August and was accused of being a spy before he was released last month. After his release it was revealed that Anchorage Police had issued three warrants for his arrest. -----------------------------------------------------------------

For three months, Evan Hunziker was at the center of an international incident.

The North Korean government arrested the 26-year-old former Tacoma resident in August after he swam across the Yalu River from China on what appeared to be a drunken whim. His capture immediately threatened the uneasy relationship between the U.S. and North Korea.

The North Koreans called Hunziker a spy. State Department officials denied the charges and demanded his release. Finally, U.S. Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who is now President Clinton's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, stepped in and negotiated Hunziker's return the day before Thanksgiving.

Hunziker arrived home in a flood of camera lights, looking dazed and slightly amused by the media attention.

"I'm just happy to be home right now," he told reporters.

Hunziker seemed physically well except for two red marks on his neck that appeared to be rope burns. He refused to tell anyone what caused the marks. North Korean officials said he tried to kill himself while he was in their custody.

Hunziker was found dead about 6:30 a.m. yesterday in the restaurant lounge at the Olympus Hotel owned by his mother in downtown Tacoma. He had been living there.

He apparently shot himself in the head with his cousin's .357-caliber Magnum. He left no note, Tacoma Police spokesman Jim Mattheis said.

His father, Edwin Hunziker, a Parkland resident and Korean War veteran, said his son, a 1988 graduate of Stadium High School in Tacoma, appeared to be in good spirits after his return.

Though he seemed more quiet than usual, he didn't seem depressed or suicidal, his father said. The older Hunziker said his son had lined up a potential job and was excited about it.

"It's kind of hard to say why people do things like this," said Edwin Hunziker said. "I guess you don't know what goes on in people's minds."

Evan Hunziker's family said he had found God when he was in jail in Anchorage serving time for reckless driving.

After reading the Bible, Hunziker decided to go to South Korea for a month to visit family members and to preach. Hunziker's mother is a native of South Korea.

"He got religion," his father said. "He even got on me for cussing around him. He got into it pretty heavy."

When he returned to the United States, Hunziker told reporters he decided to go to North Korea "out of curiosity and to preach the gospel."

Court records in Alaska showed Hunziker led a troubled life before he stepped foot on North Korean soil. He drifted from one problem with the law to another. From 1992 to 1996, Hunziker was arrested at least seven times for various violations that included assault, malicious destruction and reckless driving.

In one incident, Hunziker tried to drag his former wife out of a hospital. He grabbed a nurse by the arm when she tried to stop him. He pleaded no contest to domestic-violence assault.

Another time, Hunziker smashed the furniture in a hotel owned by his mother in Anchorage. That case was later dismissed when his mother dropped the charges.

Hunziker was repeatedly ordered to get therapy and help for alcohol abuse, according to court documents. But he refused to go.

"He ran away from it," his father said. "He was too headstrong about going to get help."

Two restraining orders were filed against Hunziker by a court on behalf of his mother, Jong Nye Hunziker, and his mother's boyfriend, Kevin Hux. His mother eventually dropped the restraining order against her son, but not Hux.

Records from the District Court in Anchorage show that Hux filed for a restraining order in November 1995. Hux said Hunziker had beaten him and tried to stab him with a pencil. Hux had to seek emergency treatment.

"Evan has a crack-cocaine problem, a violent temper and has a Jekyll/Hyde personality," Hux wrote in his request for a restraining order.

Hux also said Hunziker relied on his mother for living expenses.

Police in Anchorage eventually issued three warrants for Hunziker's arrest - for reckless driving, assault and violating the no-contact order in Hux's case.

By that time, Hunziker had made his way to Korea, where he was captured by North Korean farmers on Aug. 24 and turned over to the police.

Hunziker spent most of the three months in a hotel, but he also was confined to a maximum-security jail.

When Hunziker was finally released, Rep. Richardson called him "emotional and overwhelmed."

Hunziker's death startled those who tried to help him.

"I am very saddened by this sudden turn of events," Richardson said in a written statement. "Evan was a gentle young man who sought peace for all people. I express my heartfelt condolences to the Hunziker family."

In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called Hunziker's death "a very, very sad case."

Mary Payne, a resident of the hotel who had known Hunziker for five years, said he didn't appear despondent.

"I told him if he needed to talk I was there," Payne said. But Hunziker didn't talk with her about his stay in North Korea or about his future plans.

"I just can't believe that was him," Payne said.

Material from the Associated Press and from Liz Ruskin, reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, was used in this report.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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