Otto Warmbier, a young American who was famously sentenced to hard labor in North Korea more than a year and a half ago, has died.
He had only just returned to the US, having been in a coma for over a year.
His loved ones mourn him, and his family has issued a public statement:
18 months ago, Otto Warmbier was on vacation in North Korea (by way of a trip to China) when he was accused of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a restricted area of his hotel.
The “evidence” was sketchy at best.
After issuing a dubious confession, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
He had, you see, by allegedly messing with a poster, committed a “crime against the state.”
The sentence itself, and possibly the initial accusation that led up to it, was a political reprisal for American sanctions against North Korea for their nuclear program.
After spending the majority of that sentence in a coma, it was clear when Otto’s still-medically-considered-alive body returned home days ago that recovery might be impossible.
Today, that became a tragic certainty.
His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, have issued this 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.”
Every parent’s nightmare, right?
“t 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.”
They thank the doctors who worked to try to restore Otto to his former self.
“We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto.
And there’s no question of where the blame lies, in their minds or basically in anyone else’s:
“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”
They even describe Otto’s final days.
“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.”
That might be their interpretation, but even someone with massive brain injuries might perceive things on some level about the world around them.
“He was home and we believe he could sense that.”
The Warmbiers have described North Korea as a “pariah,” and they’re right.
The rogue state is a dystopian hellhole — the kind where so much Young Adult fiction is set.
And the world does nothing, for a long list of complicated reasons.
How agonizing it must be for the people impacted by it, both North Korean citizens themselves who are powerless against an oppressive regime, and for those outsiders caught up in it all.
We’re glad that Otto had some peace at the end.
And though they’ll be tormented for years, wondering what horrors befell their son to put him in such a condition, we hope that his family finds peace soon.