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North Korea holds California man called shy, smart

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – One of the three Americans detained in North Korea and charged with “anti-state” crimes is a California man raised in the Central Valley oil town of Bakersfield by parents who were petroleum engineers.

Matthew Todd Miller, 24, told the Associated Press in an interview Friday that he was in good health and treated well. It is unknown if he spoke to on his own or if his comments were coerced.

“I expect soon I will be going to trial for my crime and be sent to prison,” Miller told a local AP Television News crew. “I have been requesting help from the American government, but have received no reply.”

Miller is the youngest of Bill and K.C. Miller’s four sons and a 2008 graduate of Bakersfield High School. A handwritten note on the front door of his family home in Bakersfield asked for privacy.

Neighbor Carol Stewart said Matthew Miller first traveled to South Korea about four years ago to visit a brother stationed there with the U.S. Air Force. He found work teaching English and learned Korean, Stewart said in a July 1 interview. She has since declined to comment out of respect for his parents’ wishes.

“He liked it a lot, and he’s been there ever since,” said Stewart, describing Matthew Miller as the shy one of the four brothers.

North Korea authorities say they are preparing to put Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 56, of Ohio, on trial, but have not yet specified what illegal activity they did or the potential punishment. A third American, Kenneth Bae, has been held there since November 2012.

The country’s state-run media have said Miller entered the country April 10 with a tourist visa but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum.

“I wouldn’t have expected him to do that,” said Raymond Stewart, Carol Stewart’s husband. “It’s just hard to believe.”

Melissa Morris, 24, who went to high school with Miller, recalled him being “very quiet but extremely intelligent.” She said the two worked on a class project together, which was the last time they interacted.

“He did not speak a single word to me the entire time we did the project,” she said. “He was not your typical high school student.”

Morris said Miller came from a high-achieving family.

“A lot of us felt like he was really quiet because he had a lot of successful people in his family,” she said, adding that Miller participated in the school’s academic decathlon team and Junior ROTC.