22-year-old Otto Warmbier died Monday afternoon after being in a coma for over a year. He was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016 after being accused of committing “hostile acts” against the nation.

After his imprisonment, his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier did not get any communication concerning his son’s whereabouts.

University of Virginia Otto Warmbier was convicted to "15 years of hard labor". Image credit: Kim Kwang Hyon / AP
University of Virginia Otto Warmbier was convicted to “15 years of hard labor”. Image credit: Kim Kwang Hyon / AP

North Korea returned Otto on Thursday, landing on Cincinnati, Ohio. North Korean officials told Fred and Cindy that their son had contracted botulism after the trial and fell in a coma after he was given a sleeping pill.

The latest American abducted by North Korea

Otto Warmbier was a commerce and economics student at the University of Virginia. At the end of 2015, while traveling in China, he decided to go to North Korea after being persuaded by a Chinese company that marketed to young, intrepid Americans.

“Despite what you may hear, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit. This is the trip your parents don’t want you to take!” advertised Young Pioneer Tours, the company that Warmbier hired.

The young man was staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, where he allegedly stole a sign from a restricted area that read “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il’s patriotism!”

His parents claim that the theft is a hoax and that instead, he was just about to leave when North Korean authorities took him into custody. To support the theft story, the Korean Central News Agency published a blurry video of a figure stealing the poster. The thief’s face is never shown in the footage.

Warmbier’s crime was committing “a hostile act against the state.” On February 29, Warmbier stated in a news conference that he stole the poster on behalf of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio. The poster would be hung as a trophy in one of the walls. Additionally, he claimed that he would be given a $10,000 used car. If he didn’t return, then his mother would obtain $200,000. Pastor Mesach Kanyion did not comment when contacted by Associated Press.

Apparently, Warmbier was also trying to join the “Z Society” at his university, which is a secret society founded in 1892. He claimed that he accepted the monetary offer because his family suffered from “very severe financial difficulties.”

Warmbier delivers his confession during a news conference. Image credit: PBS
Warmbier delivers his confession during a news conference. Image credit: PBS

“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country, I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries,” Warmbier stated on his confession, after which he begged for forgiveness.

Warmbier’s father assures that the story does not make any sense and that the confession was forced upon his son.

Warmbier’s release and passing

After the trial, the U.S. government pressed for Warmbier’s release, but he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. The whereabouts of Warmbier would remain obscure, as his parents were constantly in touch with the federal government.

17 months later, in June, Warmbier was released and then medically evacuated to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Doctors tried to understand why was Warmbier in a coma and if North Korean officials were truthful in their story about him being given a sleeping and contracting botulism.

Doctors saw that Warmbier showed no signs of physical abuse and that he was in a vegetative state, able to blink and breathe on his own but unable to respond to stimuli. Brain scans revealed that he had lost brain tissue in what appeared to be an event of cardiac arrest due to oxygen deprivation.

Ohio Governor John Kasich referred to Warmbier as a “young man of exceptional spirit,” and he lamented how the “evil, oppressive nature of the North Korean regime” has little to no regard for human dignity.

President Donald Trump issued a written statement, expressing his condolences to Otto’s family. He assured that it was in his determination to prevent any future tragedies like this one.

Tensions with North Korea are at the highest they have been in years. On April, Admiral Harry Harris warned about Kim Jong-Un’s threats, as he vowed to develop long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States. Harris assures that eventually, Kim Jong-Un will succeed after failing many times and that it is up to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) network that any missile fired to the U.S. is promptly neutralized.

The current plan is to rely on sanctions to try and keep North Korea at bay, although Harris does not rule out military intervention. On top of this, former U.S. ambassador to China Max Baucus warned that it would be “cataclysmic” to launch a missile strike on North Korea, as he reminisced Trump’s decision of dropping the “Mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan and launching a heavy missile strike on Syria.

Source: Washington Post