Amer­i­can held by N. Korea dies

The par­ents of Otto Warm­bier de­cry the ‘tor­tur­ous mis­treat­ment’ of their 22-year-old son.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Kaiman

Otto Warm­bier, a 22year-old col­lege stu­dent, was in a coma when he ar­rived in Ohio last week.

Otto Warm­bier, the Amer­i­can stu­dent im­pris­oned by North Korea for 17 months and freed last week in a coma, died Mon­day af­ter­noon, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by his fam­ily.

The 22-year-old Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dent died at 2:20 p.m. Mon­day “sur­rounded by his lov­ing fam­ily,” said the state­ment, which was signed by Warm­bier’s par­ents, Fred and Cindy Warm­bier, and re­leased by the Uni­ver­sity of Cincin­nati Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where Warm­bier was re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

North Korean au­thor­i­ties de­tained Warm­bier in Jan­uary 2016 as he vis­ited the iso­lated, au­thor­i­tar­ian state as a tourist. Soon af­ter­ward, the coun­try’s high court ac­cused him of at­tempt­ing to steal a pro­pa­ganda poster from his Py­ongyang ho­tel, and sen­tenced him to 15 years of hard la­bor for crimes against the state.

Fred and Cindy Warm­bier re­ceived no in­for­ma­tion about their son’s con­di­tion while he was in de­ten­tion. He was med­i­cally evac­u­ated to the U.S. and ar­rived in Ohio on Tues­day; on Thurs­day, North Korea said that it re­leased him “on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.” Doc­tors in Cincin­nati said he had ex­ten­sive loss of brain tis­sue and was in a state of “un­re­spon­sive wake­ful­ness.”

“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,” said the Warm­biers’ state­ment.

“Al­though we would never hear his voice again, within a day the coun­te­nance of his face changed — he was at peace,” it con­tin­ued. “He was home and we be­lieve he could sense that.”

Py­ongyang said Warm­bier fell into a coma af­ter he con­tracted bot­u­lism and took a sleep­ing pill soon af­ter his sen­tenc­ing. Yet U.S. doc­tors have cast doubt on the ex­pla­na­tion, and Warm­bier’s par­ents lashed out at the iso­lated state.

“There’s no mean­ing here,” Fred Warm­bier told Fox News last week. “This is a rogue, pariah regime. They’re ter­ror­ists. They’re bru­tal. There’s no sense to any­thing here.”

The rea­sons for Warm­bier’s de­ten­tion, the cause of his coma, and the cir­cum­stances of his re­lease re­main un­clear.

“It would be easy at a mo­ment like this to fo­cus on all that we lost — fu­ture time that won’t be spent with a warm, en­gag­ing, bril­liant young man whose cu­rios­ity and en­thu­si­asm for life knew no bounds,” the Warm­bier fam­ily said Mon­day. “But we choose to fo­cus on the time we were given to be with this re­mark­able per­son. You can tell from the out­pour­ing of emo­tion from the com­mu­ni­ties that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio, and the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well be­yond his im­me­di­ate fam­ily.”

Warm­bier was the 2013 salu­ta­to­rian at Wyoming High School in his home­town of Wyoming.

An­a­lysts say North Korea often at­tempts to use foreign de­tainees to wrest out­side con­ces­sions. Yet Warm­bier’s treat­ment has only deep­ened an­i­mos­ity be­tween Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton, which in­creased in re­cent months amid a game of brinkman­ship be­tween North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Pres­i­dent Trump.

Warm­bier’s death could chill ef­forts to restart a di­a­logue with North Korea. An aca­demic who serves as an ad­vi­sor to Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s newly elected pres­i­dent, cited the Warm­bier case as one rea­son that Moon was mov­ing cau­tiously with Py­ongyang.

“Otto Warm­bier had this tragic re­turn. There­fore the at­mos­phere in Wash­ing­ton is ex­tremely hos­tile against North Korea,” said the pro­fes­sor, Moon Chung-in, who was speak­ing at New York’s Asia So­ci­ety on Mon­day morn­ing be­fore Warm­bier’s death was an­nounced. “With this kind of be­hav­ior, it would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for Pres­i­dent Moon to con­sider go­ing to Py­ongyang or have any mean­ing­ful in­ter­ac­tion with North Korea.”

Trump of­fered con­do­lences to the Warm­bier fam­ily in a state­ment Mon­day. “There is noth­ing more tragic for a par­ent than to lose a child in the prime of life,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s fam­ily and friends, and all who loved him.

“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.”

Three Amer­i­can cit­i­zens re­main in de­ten­tion in North Korea: Kim Sang-duk, an ac­count­ing in­struc­tor at a uni­ver­sity in Py­ongyang, who was de­tained in April for un­known rea­sons; Kim Hak­song, another worker at the uni­ver­sity; and Kim Dongchul, 62, who is serv­ing a 10year term for es­pi­onage.

jonathan.kaiman @la­times.com Times staff writer Bar­bara Demick in New York con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Jon Chol Jin As­so­ci­ated Press

OTTO WARM­BIER, at the Supreme Court in Py­ongyang in March 2016, was co­matose when he was freed from prison in North Korea last week.

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