On Monday afternoon, 2 parents from Cincinnati, Ohio suffered a tragedy no parent should ever endure: the death of their 22-year-old son. Their names are Fred and Cindy Warmbier, and their son is Otto Warmbier, the American student who made headlines in early 2016 when he was detained in North Korea.
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It started in January 2016. Otto was traveling in China when he spontaneously joined a tour group visiting North Korea. While there, Otto attempted to steal a propaganda banner from his hotel as a souvenir. The poster bore Kim Jong-il’s name; harming any item with the name or image of a North Korean leader is considered a serious crime. Otto was detained at the airport while trying to leave the country and was soon after convicted of “hostile acts against the state.”
Meanwhile, Otto’s family was left in the dark.
His parents worried when they didn’t hear from him and sought counsel from the State Department. It wasn’t until March 2016 that they finally got a message from Otto through a Swedish official. Weeks later, North Korea released a video of Otto’s trial, resulting in a weighty sentence: 15 years hard labor.
But Otto wouldn’t serve his full time.
Last week, Otto was unexpectedly returned to the United States after nearly 18 months in North Korean custody, but under terrible conditions. The young man had suffered extensive brain damage while in North Korea and was in a coma. North Korea claimed it was the result of botulism combined with a sleeping pill. Physicians in Ohio, where Otto was treated, found no signs of botulism, but also could find no evidence of head injury or physical abuse; rather, the damage was more likely the result of a cardiac arrest causing the brain to be denied oxygen.
Monday afternoon, 6 days after his return to the United States, Otto Warmbier passed away.
After all they’ve been through, Otto’s parents are no doubt furious and heartbroken. In a statement, they accuse North Korea of “awful torturous mistreatment.” However, Otto’s parents refuse to wallow in grief.
The statement focuses instead on the positive: the beautiful life Otto led before his capture and the gratitude they now feel for those who fought for Otto’s life and now support their family.
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 a few – 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.
— Fred & Cindy Warmbier and Family
In the context of the events of the past year, this is a truly remarkable statement from Frank and Cindy Warmbier. The sentiments they expressed regarding Otto’s enthusiasm for life seem to echo those made last month at the University of Virginia.
Otto was a student at UVA when was taken into custody, and he would have graduated just a few weeks ago.
“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about Otto,”
They described him as “quirky, funny, charismatic, and studious.” Telling the Washington Post that Otto planned to attend graduate school and pursue a career in investment banking.
He was a top student at UVA, a sports fanatic, and a loyal friend. Friends remember him for his insatiable curiosity and passion for life; full of surprises and always sporting his signature smile.
“We miss him,” said one of Otto’s friends at the ceremony. “We love him.”
Share Otto’s story to honor his life.
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