Otto Warmbier, a college student held captive by North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died on June 19, 2017. He was 22. The story of Warmbier and his imprisonment is seriously sad, infuriating, and mystifying.
Warmbier was a student at the University of Virginia when he visited North Korea on a guided tour in March 2016. He was convicted of hostile acts after he stole a political propaganda poster and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. American officials and his parents fought for his release, but, when he was finally returned to the US, he was irreversibly damaged. Warmbier suffered a severe neurological injury and was in a coma, which North Korean officials said was a result of botulism and a sleeping pill. His parents believe he was brutally beaten.
He Was Arrested After Stealing A Poster
Otto Warmbier was a junior at the University of Virginia when he traveled to North Korea as part of a guided trip. He had been traveling in China when he saw the tour, and he decided to be adventurous and go. During his five-day trip, he was staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang and allegedly stole a poster from the staff-only floor of the hotel; the poster honored Kim Jong-il. His parents say the story was not true, and that he was abducted at the airport.
He was officially arrested on January 2, 2016. Almost two months later, he confessed to the theft on a video released by the North Korean government. He claimed he was motivated to steal it by a friend's mother, who promised to give him a car worth $10,000 if he succeeded. However, Warmbier's parents said that is also not true.
People Thought His Sentence Was Cruel And Politically Motivated
US officials tried to negotiate for Warmbier's release, arguing 15 years hard labor was too severe a sentence for the menial offense. US State Department officials accused the North Korean government of holding Warmbier for political reasons. They tried to have Warmbier released on humanitarian grounds, but the government refused. The video of his trial was the last time anyone saw Warmbier being able to communicate.
He Fell Into A Coma Shortly After His Trial Under Suspicious Circumstances
Warmbier's parents and US officials were only told of his comatose state a week before his release in June 2017. But he had apparently been in a coma for a year before his release. North Korean officials said he had botulism and fell into a coma after taking a sleeping pill, but US officials aren't so sure. They believe he was severely abused. Others theorize he possibly tried to commit suicide, but failed. He had severe brain trauma and was unable to communicate at all.
He was medically evacuated from North Korea on June 13. He died less than a week later. Upon his arrival to the US, doctors said he had no sign of broken bones or marks on his body – as well as no signs of botulism.