Otto Warmbier dies, just days after release from North Korea imprisonment

Bryan Woolston—Reuters
A person believed to be Otto Warmbier is transferred from a medical transport airplane to an awaiting ambulance at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati on June 13.

CINCINNATI — Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was detained for 17 months in North Korea, has died. Warmbier was in a coma when he was released last week and had suffered a “severe” neurological injury. His father, Fred Warmbier, said his son was “brutalized and terrorized” by the reclusive regime. However the family said their son’s face, while unresponsive, seemed at peace and they believe he knew he was back home in Ohio.”Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” the family said in a statement following Warmbier’s death at 2:20 p.m. eastern time at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.Last week, Fred Warmbier thanked the Trump administration for demanding his son’s release and criticized the Obama administration for telling his family to “keep a low profile.”Upon Otto’s arrival in his hometown of Cincinnati doctors said they had been unable to communicate with North Korean doctors on Otto’s condition and the cause of his coma. However, they reported that Otto was stable but “shows no sign of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surrounding,” said spokeswoman Kelly Martin of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said in a one-line report on Thursday the student was “sent back home on June 13, 2017, on humanitarian grounds according to the adjudication made on the same day by the Central Court of the DPRK.”Fred Warmbier said the family did not believe North Korea’s story, that their son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.”We don’t believe anything they (North Korea) say,” Fred Warmbier said.Otto Warmbier was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan, according to North Korean media reports. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) worked with the family throughout his imprisonment to have him released. Monday he expressed his sadness in Warmbier’s passing.”Otto Warmbier was such a promising young man. He was kind, generous and accomplished. He had all the talent you could ever ask for and a bright future ahead of him. His passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us. Jane and I are lifting up the Warmbier family in our prayers at this difficult time, and we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of this remarkable young Ohioan.”The New York Times previously cited a senior U.S. official as saying Washington had received intelligence reports that Warmbier had been repeatedly beaten while in North Korean custody. Portman said that Warmbier’s condition was known 16 months ago, just a month after he was imprisoned and the North Korean government would not allow consular access to him.”If anybody ever questions the nature of this regime, they shouldn’t anymore,” said Portman last week. “Not only don’t they respect the rule of law and the basic freedoms that we all enjoy, but this is a regime that obviously has little regard for human dignity or human rights at all, and to not permit—once they knew of his medical condition—for there to be access and for there to be help is abhorrent.”