Otto Warmbier, the college student held prisoner by the North Korean regime for 17 months, was freed early this week, but the circumstances of his emancipation are sad and tragic — a distinction the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not note in his official comment Tuesday morning.
Warmbier’s parents told the Washington Post on Tuesday that their son fell into a coma after “taking a sleeping pill” shortly after his trial in March of 2016. Earlier this week, he was medically evacuated from North Korea, and will return home on Tuesday, but the circumstances around his medical situation and release are still unclear. The State Department, however, isn’t offering any answers in a public statement released Tuesday.
Update [6/19/17]: Warmbier’s parents have announced their son has died at age 22.
At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea. 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.
The Post reports that North Korean officials claim Warmbier was stricken with botulisim, a severe form of food poisoning, shortly after his trial in March. He took a sleeping pill after the sickness had passed, and then never woke up. Warmbier was initially sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after he was convicted of “crimes against the state” for trying to take down a propaganda poster on the last day of his trip through North Korea.
Right now, the only information about Warmbier’s condition is coming directly from his family. The State Department isn’t known for its transparency, but if Warmbier had been in medical distress for so long, there must be more to his release than we know now.
Photos via Getty Images / Drew Angerer