Otto Warmbier’s parents have shared horrific details of his condition when he arrived home from North Korea.
In an interview with Fox and Friends, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said that the North Koreans were “terrorists” who had “systematically tortured” their son.
Otto Warmbier was jailed in Pyongyang in 2016 for stealing a hotel sign.
The American student was released on medical grounds in June 2017 but arrived home seriously ill and died days later.
North Korea has always denied mistreating Otto Warmbier. According to North Korean officials, he contracted botulism while in prison but US doctors found no trace of this.
In their first interview since their son’s death, Fred and Cindy Warmbier told Fox News that they “felt it was time to tell the truth about the condition that Otto was in”.
American doctors had previously described Otto Warmbier as being in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”, but his parents said calling this a coma was “unfair”.
Fred Warmbier said when they saw his son he was “moving around, and jerking violently, making these howling and inhuman sounds”.
His head was shaved, he was blind and deaf, his arms and legs were “totally deformed” and he had a huge scar on his foot, he said. It “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth”.
Fred Warmbier said: “Otto was systematically tortured and intentionally injured by Kim and his regime. This was no accident.”
He also said Otto had been abandoned by his family, his country and the world and that the government had given them no information about his death.
Cindy Warmbier said North Korea sent him home because “they didn’t want him to die on their soil”.
The family refused a post-mortem examination because they thought Otto had suffered enough and “I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight,” she said.
Cindy Warmbier also pleaded with people not to go to North Korea, saying it was “playing into” Pyongyang’s propaganda. US citizens are now banned from travelling to North Korea.
However, the Cincinnati Enquirer, a local newspaper has disputed the allegations made by Otto Warmbier’s parents.
The newspaper said it had obtained a copy of a coroner’s report on Otto Warmbier, based on an external examination, which revealed several small scars but nothing which indicated torture.
The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted the Hamilton County coroner as saying Otto Warmbier’s teeth were “natural and in good repair” and that he appeared to have died from brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
President Donald Trump, who is known to watch Fox and Friends, tweeted that it had been “a great interview”, and that “Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea”.
The president’s comment is likely to stoke the escalating tensions between North Korea and the US, which have exchanged allegations and threats at an unprecedented rate in recent weeks.
Otto Warmbier was detained in North Korea for more than 15 months.
The coroner said only an external exam was performed on Otto Warmbier, who arrived home in a coma.
North Korea claims Otto Warmbier’s coma was due to botulism and a sleeping pill, but his family and doctors disagree.
Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in March 2016 after being tried for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel.
The coroner’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio, said in a statement: “No conclusions about the cause and manner of Mr. Warmbier’s death have been drawn at this time as there are additional medical records and imaging to review and people to interview.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Mr. Warmbier at this time of their tragic loss.”
Doctors at the Cincinnati Medical Center, where Otto Warmbier was treated following his return to the US on June 13, determined he suffered from “unresponsive wakefulness”, also known as persistent vegetative state, due to “severe neurological injury”.
However, it remains unclear exactly what happened to the student while in North Korea detention. His family and doctors dispute North Korea’s version of events.
A funeral is to take place on June 21 at a high school in Wyoming, Ohio, that Otto Warmbier attended before enrolling at the University of Virginia.
“All those that wish to join his family in celebrating his life are cordially invited,” the announcement states.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier wrote: “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 also said: “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.”
President Trump said that a “lot of bad things happened” to Otto Warmbier, but added: “At least we got him home to be with his parents, where they were so happy to see him, even though he was in very tough condition.”
The president said Otto Warmbier’s death had deepened his administration’s resolve “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.”
The company Otto Warmbier traveled with, Chinese company Young Pioneer Tours, has announced it will no longer take visitors from the US to North Korea.
However, a team of doctors assessing Otto Warmbier in Cincinnati said they had found “no sign of botulism”.
Otto Warmbier had suffered a “severe neurological injury” of unknown cause, the doctors said, leading to an extensive loss of brain tissue.
He could open his eyes but showed no sign of response to communication.
Doctors said the most likely cause, given Otto Warmbier’s young age, was cardiopulmonary arrest that had cut the blood supply to the brain.
It is not known when Otto Warmbier had fallen into his coma and there is a suspicion it was quite recently, as the US was only told at the beginning of this month about his health situation.
The North Koreans may have realized there was the possibility of an American citizen dying on their hands.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has helped free other Americans in North Korea, said he had met North Korean envoys 20 times during Otto Warmbier’s incarceration and on no occasion was his health mentioned.
Bill Richardson called for the release of the three US citizens still held in North Korea:
Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalized US citizen born in South Korea, who was sentenced to ten years hard labor in April 2016 for spying;
Korean-American professor Kim Sang-duk (known as Tony Kim), who was detained in April 2017. The reasons for his arrest are not yet clear;
Kim Hak-song, like Kim Sang-duk, worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) and was detained in May 2017 on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the state.
President Donald Trump was criticized in May when he said he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the “appropriate” time.