SADO, Niigata Prefecture--Charles Jenkins, a former U.S. Army soldier who deserted to North Korea where he married a Japanese woman abducted by agents of the secluded country, died here on Dec. 11. He was 77.

Jenkins, a native of North Carolina, is survived by his widow, Hitomi Soga, and their two daughters, Mika and Brinda.

One of his daughters returned home and found Jenkins lying on the ground outside their home around 7 p.m., according to officials close to the Sado city government. She called for an ambulance, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The cause of his death was lethal arrhythmia.

“I was astounded because it was so sudden,” Soga, 58, said in a statement. “I cannot think now and would like to comment when I regain my calm.”

Jenkins worked for a tourism facility in Sado after North Korea allowed him to join his wife in Japan in 2004.

In 2005, he published his memoir, “Kokuhaku” (“To Tell the Truth”), in which he revealed that a Thai woman and other foreign nationals had also fallen victim to North Korea’s abduction-espionage program.

When he was stationed with other U.S. troops in South Korea in 1965, Jenkins deserted and crossed the border into North Korea.

North Korean agents abducted Soga from Sado, her hometown, and her mother in 1978. Soga’s mother was never heard from again.

Jenkins and Soga were married in North Korea in 1980.

During the historic summit between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2002, Pyongyang admitted to abducting Japanese citizens.

Soga and four other Japanese abductees were repatriated later in the year.

Jenkins and the couple’s daughters came to Japan in 2004.

After he arrived in Japan, Jenkins reported to the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture, where he faced a court-martial. He was given a 30-day jail sentence and a dishonorable discharge from the Army.

At a news conference in September, Soga expressed concerns about Jenkins’ advanced age, adding that he had reduced his number of work days this year.