US student Otto Warmbier, imprisoned in North Korea, dies after return
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Less than a week after arriving back in the United States in a comatose state following his 17-month imprisonment in North Korea by Kim Jong-un’s regime, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was pronounced dead on Monday.
The 22-year-old Wyoming, Ohio native was returned to the US only a month after the North Koreans, who upon the release said that they were acting on humanitarian grounds, notified American authorities that Warmbier had been in a coma for over a year. He never regained consciousness.
Warmbier was jailed for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel and, according to North Korean officials, he contracted botulism, a rare illness that causes paralysis, shortly after his March 2016 trial. Afterwards, he was apparently given a sleeping pill and had been in a coma ever since.
The team of doctors in Cincinnati, Ohio that examined and aided Warmbier since his return could not find any sign of botulism, which would not be unusual after more than a year, but did discover that he suffered from respiratory stress and that the oxygen supply to his brain was cut off.
Scans of the brain conducted by University of Cincinnati doctors showed severe damage that led to Warmbier’s condition of “unresponsive wakefulness,” which allowed him to open his eyes but show no sign of response to communication.
Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, released a statement Monday following the passing of their son, saying that he had “completed his journey home.”
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable – almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day, the countenance of his face changed – he was at peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that.”
They continued, “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 usually outspoken US President Donald Trump remained somewhat mum about how he will handle discussions with North Korea after this latest incident. Three other US citizens are currently being held by Kim Jong-un’s regime.
“At least we got him home to be with his parents where they were so happy to see him even though he was in a very tough condition,” Trump said.
“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency. The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
US congressmen on both sides of the aisle came out much harsher in their criticism of North Korea and wish to see more of a bold reaction from the US side towards North Korea. Multiple lawmakers ventured to call Warmbier’s death a “murder.”
“Let us state the facts plainly: Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime,” Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a war hero and former presidential candidate who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
“Now it has escalated to brutalizing Americans, including three other citizens currently imprisoned in North Korea. The United States of America cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers.”
Democratic Senator and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland shared McCain’s sentiment.
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