Former colleagues of Aijalon Mahli Gomes say they were shocked to learn that he is the person North Korean authorities have been holding in custody for more than two months.
North Korean media announced the arrest of a U.S. citizen in late January, but did not identify the individual until Monday. Gomes is a 30-year-old man from Boston, Massachusetts.
North Korea says he crossed the border from China illegally on January 25.
Gomes came to South Korea about two years ago to teach English. Fellow American Jered Lyons says he taught in the same town as Gomes from October 2008 to July of 2009. He describes Gomes as deeply religious.
"Aijalon was always, he was the type of guy that kind of wanted to share the Gospel, if you will, share his faith," he said. "He would always invite me to church with him, and always wanted to have Bible studies and stuff like that. So, I think he had a deep passion for bringing people to Christianity."
Lyons says Gomes did not always relate easily to other people. "Overall, he was a nice guy. He meant well. He was a little socially awkward. I mean, yeah, I would say he didn't do groups well," he said.
Gomes's case is drawing comparisons to that of Robert Park, a 28-year-old Arizona resident who crossed into the North on Christmas Day last year to spread a Christian message.
Park was freed last month. Friends say he recently spent time in a mental hospital, and experienced torture and sexual abuse in the North. He has not spoken publicly on the subject.