Jeffrey Fowle said Friday he meant to leave a bi-lingual Bible hidden in a North Korean restaurant restroom, and no one else helped him or encouraged him to do it.
The West Carrollton resident and Moraine employee took sole responsibility for an action that resulted in five months of captivity in Pyongyang hotels — and uncertainty about his and his family's future.
"I told nobody, not even my wife, colleagues or church people I was planning on leaving a Bible behind," Fowle, 56, said at the Lebanon offices of his attorney, Timothy Tepe, in his first media interview after his return home more than a week ago.
Fowle to detainees: 'Keep the faith' | VIDEO: Fowle speaks to reporters | VIDEO: Fowle's Bible motivation
Fowle visited North Korea without his Russian native wife Tatyana or his three children last spring. He said he and a tour group visited a nightclub and an eatery in that nation one evening.
From the outset, Fowle said he wanted to avoid scrutiny and security. He said that was one reason why he visited the restaurant with a Korean-English Bible “in my pocket.”
“I wanted to drive away from the hotel, where there would be less, possibly less, security people,” Fowle said. “It might possibly be a good place.”
He said he got a soda, then visited the restroom where he wanted to leave the Bible. “I said, ‘This is it. It’s now or never. I don’t want to wait for the hotel or some other venue that might be populated with security people.’
“I took the Bible out and wrapped it in a piece of newspaper, Chinese newspaper,” Fowle continued. “And I placed it under a bin, a trash bin there. And I left.”
Fowle said he initially wanted to have “plausible deniability” by claiming he dropped the Bible accidentally. But he said he realized that wrapping and hiding the Bible would destroy any such deniability.
“I was rushed. I wasn’t thinking very clearly,” Fowle said. “I kind of panicked.”
He also admitted he purchased the Bible with the intention to leave it somewhere in North Korea. Inspired by his faith and what he described as compassion for famine survivors in that country, he hoped a member of an underground Christian church would find it.
“With my faith in God, I thought I could deliver the Bible there and God would take care of the rest,” Fowle said.
The Bible was found. He said a tour guide approached him and other tour members the next day in a visit to a food factory. They were asked if anyone had left anything behind at a nightclub the previous evening.
“I admitted to leaving it there,” Fowle said. He said he was allowed to finish the tour, however.
In fact, North Korea officials did not detain him until he was at a Pyongyang airport, preparing to leave for China with four other tour members. Going through customs at the airport, he was arrested and taken to a high-rise tourist hotel where he stayed for nearly a month.
“Boy, this not going according to plan,” he said he were his initial thoughts. “I’m in trouble now. I could be here for a few weeks, or a few years or more.”
Added Fowle,”I just knew I was in deep trouble at that point.”
Later, he was taken to “a hospitality center” on the north end of Pyongyang. He said he was not harmed or threatened in many instances of being questioned, but at one point he was asked: “Are you prepared to spend the rest of your life in prison?”
Isolated about 23 hours a day, Fowle was often around North Koreans who did not speak English. He said he dealt mostly with an interpreter, Mr. Jo, and a senior official he called “Mr. 56.”
He acknowledged what he sees now as a mistake.
“Knowing what I know now and how things turned out, I would not do that again,” Fowle said of trying to leave behind a Bible. “Nor would I recommend that for other people.”
Two other Americans remain imprisoned in North Korea, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. Fowle says his message to them is: “Keep the faith.”
Fowle said he feels fine emotionally since being released from captivity.
“I got back on my feet pretty quickly,” he said.
He returns to his job as a Moraine street department employee Monday.
Timeline: Jeffrey Fowle's North Korean detainment
VIDEOS: Jeffrey Fowle returns home
Fowle's return after capivity marks 'whirlwind' day
Jeffrey Fowle home in West Carrollton
Local man detained in North Korea released
Family of N. Korean detainee apologizes on his behalf
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