Investigation begins after death of Otto Warmbier, US student freed from North Korea video

Otto Warmbier returned to the US from North Korea in a coma, and died less than a week later.
KYODO/REUTERS

Otto Warmbier returned to the US from North Korea in a coma, and died less than a week later.

A coroner's office in the US is investigating the death of a 22-year-old college student who died less than a week after his return to the country following more than a year in North Korean detention.

The spokesman for Ohio's Hamilton County coroner Dr Lakshmi Sammaraco said the office had "accepted the case" of Otto Warmbier, who died on Monday [Tuesday NZ Time] in a Cincinnati hospital. Justin Weber said a press conference was expected later to provide more information.

Wambier's parents did not cite a specific cause of death, but cited "awful, torturous mistreatment" by North Korea. Doctors had described Warmbier's condition as a state of "unresponsive wakefulness" and said he suffered a "severe neurological injury" of unknown cause

REUTERS

Otto Warmbier, the American student who was imprisoned in North Korea before being returned to the US in a coma has died in a Cincinnati hospital.

He arrived in Ohio on June 13 after being held for more than 17 months.

READ MORE:
Warmbier dies after returning home from North Korea
To North Korea and back: Otto Warmbier's strange, sad trip
US student was 'brutalised' in North Korea
Comatose student released by North Korea arrives home 
Otto Warmbier sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in North Korea

 
Fred Warmbier, Otto's father, announced on Tuesday [NZT] that his son had died.
BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS

Fred Warmbier, Otto's father, announced on Tuesday [NZT] that his son had died.

The University of Virginia student was accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting with a tour group and was convicted of subversion. He was put before North Korean officials and journalists for a televised "confession".

"I have made the worst mistake of my life!" he exclaimed, choking up as he begged to be allowed to reunite with his parents and two younger siblings.

He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labour. His family said it was told he had been in a coma since soon after his sentencing.

A person believed to be Otto Warmbier is transferred from a medical transport airplane to a waiting ambulance in Ohio, ...
BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTES

A person believed to be Otto Warmbier is transferred from a medical transport airplane to a waiting ambulance in Ohio, US, on June 13.

Doctors said he suffered extensive loss of brain tissue and "profound weakness and contraction" of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes opened and blinked but without any sign that he understood verbal commands or his surroundings.

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Unresponsive wakefulness is a new medical term for persistent vegetative state. Patients in this condition who have survived a coma can open their eyes, but they do not respond to commands. People can live in a state of unresponsive wakefulness for many years with the chances of recovery depending on the extent of the brain injury.

North Korea said Warmbier went into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill. Doctors in Cincinnati said they found no active sign of botulism or evidence of beatings.

In a White House statement, US President Donald Trump said: "A lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents". He called North Korea a "brutal regime".

Warmbier grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming. He was salutatorian of his 2013 class at a highly rated high school and was on the soccer team.

Wyoming City Schools released a statement saying it was "deeply saddened" by his death.

"The countless contributions he made to his school and community through his leadership, actions, and limitless enthusiasm will be felt far into the future," the school district said.

Warmbier's sophomore English teacher said he would be "dearly missed".

Warmbier had planned to study in China in his third year of college and heard about Chinese travel companies offering trips to North Korea. He was leaving North Korea on January 2, 2016, when he was detained at the airport.

The organisers of Warmbier's trip say they will no longer take US citizens to the country. Young Pioneer Tours said Tuesday on Facebook that his death shows that the risk American tourists face in visiting North Korea "has become too high".

The US Department of State warns against travel to North Korea. While nearly all Americans who have been there have left without incident, visitors can be seized and face lengthy incarceration for what might seem like minor infractions.

Jeffrey Fowle, also from Ohio, was detained in 2014 when he intentionally left a Bible in a nightclub. Fowle was freed after six months. He said he was kept isolated most of the time but not physically abused. He and others freed from North Korea have said they were coached and coerced into giving confessions.

Three Americans remain held in North Korea. The US government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.l

 - AP

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