Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of Otto Warmbier, the college student jailed in North Korea, worked tirelessly for their son’s release.
Tragically, on June 19, Warmbier’s parents confirmed in a moving statement that he had died, surrounded by family.
Warmbier, 22, was home in Cincinnati, his parents said after his return to America, but he was in a coma in the hospital. The parents worked with government officials to secure their son’s release since he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp after being accused of ripping down a propaganda poster while on a 2016 tour.
Fred Warmbier held a live news conference on June 15. According to CNN, Otto has suffered a severe neurological injury. The Warmbiers were invited to the State of the Union address by President Donald Trump, where the teary-eyed parents were praised for their strength and received a standing ovation.
“We’re thrilled that our son is on American soil,” Fred Warmbier said, his voice catching with emotion as he revealed that he was wearing the same jacket Otto wore when he gave the forced confession in which he was paraded on TV by the North Koreans.
“Otto was a young university student who was on a tour with other university students. He’s never been in trouble with his life,” said his heartbroken and angry father. “He fought to stay alive through the worst the North Koreans put him through to return to the family and community he loves.”
The Ohio-based parents also released a statement saying that they and their son had been brutalized and terrorized by the North Korean regime. In the past, they have praised President Donald Trump’s efforts to free Otto Warmbier. Fred Warmbier revealed on June 15 that the family had recently spoke with Trump.
Otto Warmbier is a University of Virginia college student who was raised in Ohio.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Warmbier’s Parents Say That Otto Died Surrounded by Family
Warmbier’s death was confirmed by his parents. Here is their full statement:
It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20pm.
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. 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.
We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. 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.
When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th 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. We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too.
Tragically, Otto Warmbier was in a coma for over a year, The Washington Post is reporting. The Post reported that Warmbier was “due to arrive home in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, having been evacuated through a U.S. military base in Sapporo, Japan” and reported that “Warmbier has been in a coma for more than a year, since shortly after his last public appearance during his trial in Pyongyang in March 2016.”
“Disbelief. Couldn’t sit down,” Fred said in the news conference, describing his reaction when the parents learned Otto was in a coma. “We’ve been brutalized for the last 18 months for misinformation, no information. We are proud of the fact that our family is basically happy, positive people, and we’re going to stay that way.”
A hospital official said in the news conference that Otto is in stable condition but has “suffered a severe neurological condition.” Further details would be released later in the day. “I hugged him and missed him and was so glad he made it home,” Fred said, describing what he said to Otto when he saw him. “We’re trying to make him commfortable.”
In another news conference, hospital officials described the grim state of Warmbier’s health.
“He suffered extensive brain damage and shows no current signs of botulism,” the doctors said, according to CNN. He has not spoken or “engaged in any purposeful movements…He shows no signs of understanding language or responding to verbal commands,” a doctor said, describing his condition as “unresponsive wakefulness” but declining to give a prognosis, CNN reported.
The State Department has not commented on Warmbier’s medical condition, although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has confirmed that Warmbier is being released. According to Newsweek, “Warmbier allegedly came down with a case of botulism after his trial, and was given a sleeping pill from which he never woke up.”
“Our son is coming home,” Fred Warmbier told The Post. “At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.” On June 15, he said that the family’s feelings are bittersweet. They are relived Otto is home but angry at the treatment he’s received. He said the family doesn’t believe the North Koreans’ explanation that Otto fell into a coma because of botulism and a sleeping pill.
The family released a statement that said: “Otto has left North Korea. He is on a Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago. We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korean. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him.”
“At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family. The Department of State continues to have discussions with the DPRK regarding three other U.S. citizens reported detained. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier.”
In the press conference, Warmbier trashed the North Korean regime and said that Otto Warmbier was “lured” to North Korea and taken “hostage” there. He said the State Department was “negotiating pretty tough with them” but that he wasn’t sure the “real reason” that the North Koreans decided to let Otto go.
He said President Trump had called the family on June 14 and wanted to know how “Cindy and I were doing and wanted to know about Otto. It was a really nice conversation. It was kind.” Fred Warmbier said he had avoided conversations with Trump previously because he was focused on Otto.
2. Warmbier’s Parents Claim the Obama Administration Urged Them to Remain Quiet & Have Praised Donald Trump
In May, Warmbier’s parents went on television to praise Donald Trump and accuse former President Barack Obama’s administration of trying to keep them to remain quiet about their son’s plight.
Fred Warmbier said he and Cindy, were “urged to keep quiet” about Otto Warmbier by the Obama administration, according to Fox News.
“They feel you don’t get involved that way,” Fred said, according to Fox News. “It lets the other side solve problems and make things happen.” In the June 15 press conference, he repeated this contention but said he and his wife had decided in the spring that the “time for strategic patience was over.”
“The results speak for themselves,” Fred said, when asked if he felt the previous administration could have done more.
Fox News reported that the Warmbiers felt hopeful that a new administration would turn things around, and quoted Cindy Warmbier as saying to Trump through the TV screen, “You are doing a great job. Thank you for putting attention on something that needs to be addressed.”
The Post reported that North Korea told the United States Warmbier was in a coma on June 5, and that Trump ordered his medical evacuation, which kept quiet until now. “This is a Trump-led effort,” the Post quoted a source as saying.
In May, Otto’s mother told Fox, “Otto, we love you … hang in there … You’re coming home.” She told CNN, “With tensions as high as they are, we felt that we needed to talk about Otto and put a face on the person.”
Fred Warmbier said that Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea, the same day his son’s release was announced, had nothing to do with it, calling that angle a “diversion.”
3. Fred Warmbier Kept an Image ‘In His Heart’ Of His Son Playing High School Soccer
It wasn’t that long ago, Fred Warmbier told Fox News, that his son was just a typical American high school student playing soccer.
“Otto was a sweet, loving, kind person,” his father said in the press conference.
Warmbier’s father said he clung to that image as propaganda images of his son were disseminated by the North Korean regime.
“When I see the picture of Otto going on TV with that confession, that’s not the image I have of my son in my heart,” Fred Warmbier said to Fox. “The image I have of my son is playing soccer three short years ago in high school.”
At the time of Warmbier’s jailing, his soccer coach in high school, Steve Thomas, told Cincinnati.com of Warmbier: “He is a great kid, really smart. He was an outstanding player and student, and a good leader on and off the field.”
Warmbier’s father gave CNN another memory.
“It hurts my spirit. My vision of Otto is before he left on this trip. We were in the TV room and my easy chair broke and I had to crawl underneath this dirty chair and next thing I know his head is next to mine, and we’re looking at each other and we’re smiling and there’s love.” Fred Warmbier said to CNN. “So when I look at this picture of Otto in handcuffs being forced to do these things, it’s too painful … I’m focused on the future and bringing Otto home.”
Fred Warmbier said in the news conference that he has no plans to stay in the political arena, saying that he and his wife have spoken out only because they “have to.”
4. Fred Warmbier Owns a Metal Parts Business in Cincinnati & Otto Warmbier Was Class Salutatorian
Forbes wrote a profile on Fred Warmbier that called him an entrepreneur.
“Warmbier owns a small business, Finishing Technology, located near Cincinnati, Ohio. The company finishes and anodizes metal parts –and is growing rapidly,” wrote Forbes.
Otto Warmbier graduated from Wyoming High School in Ohio in 2013 as class Salutatorian, reported Cincinnati.com.
In high school, Warmbier was known as an outstanding student and a “great kid,” the newspaper reported, adding that he received a scholarship and was named a student of the year. “He qualified for the dean’s list at the University of Virginia, where he was also an Echols Scholar, an honor awarded to the top 7 percent of incoming first-year students, according to Warmbier’s LinkedIn page. Warmbier also serves as alumni chair for the Theta Chi fraternity at the university,” reported Cincinnati.com.
“He was a Salutatorian of the school here. He did an amazing speech,” Fred Warmbier said in the news conference, saying Otto always made his parents “look good.”
The June 15 press conference was held at Otto’s former high school. A school official remembered how Otto’s smile would “light up a room.” Some of Otto’s teachers helped lead the press conference. “Otto really thrived here,” the official said, describing Otto’s “ebullient smile…and ability to bring out the best in everybody.”
5. The North Koreans Paraded Otto Warmbier Before the Television Cameras
Warmbier had diverted to North Korea for a tour while on a study abroad trip to Hong Kong. While there, the North Korean regime accused him of ripping down a propaganda poster in 2016.
He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp, and paraded before the television cameras as a propaganda tool. The North Korean government said Warmbier, who was on a trip with the Young Pioneer Tours company, tore down a propaganda poster at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, where he and about 100 other westerners were staying.
The government said the crime was act “of hostility against the state” and accused him of being affiliated with spies. Fred Warmbier urged the North Koreans to release all other Americans being held by the regime.
You can read more about Otto Warmbier here: