More than one year later, Otto Warmbier is freed from North Korea. But has he been in a coma the entire time?
After more than 17 months being held in North Korean detention, American college student Otto Warmbier has been released to return home. The 22-year-old has been in a coma for more than a year now, which according to North Korean officials, began after he took a sleeping pill last year for the botulism he contracted.
“Otto has left North Korea. He is on Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago,” Warmbier’s parents said in a statement confirming the release. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also confirmed the release.
Warmbier’s parents say their son had been on a tour of the country when he was detained at an airport in Pyongyang for allegedly stealing a banner from his hotel. North Korea says they have video footage of him stealing the banner, and used this as evidence against him in court – where he was charged and sentenced with 15 years of hard labor. This was the last time he was seen publicly.
North Korea’s actions have been condemned by Rob Portman, a U.S. Senator from Warmbier’s home state of Ohio. Portman said, “Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior. Otto should have been released from the start.”
Warmbier’s parents also released a strong statement, saying “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korea. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him.”
The American’s release comes the same day as former NBA player Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang, but there is no connection between the two, US National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said.
Rodman had been asked previously if he would try to help negotiate a deal to bring home the four Americans detained by the regime. Rodman said, “that’s not my purpose right now … My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea.”
North Korea still holds three Americans hostage – two are academics who were working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and the other is a businessman named Kim Dong Chul. Tillerson said the U.S. is discussing their cases with the North Korean government.