Over a year ago, former University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, was detained in North Korea for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel room. Warmbier traveled to North Korea with other US students as part of a study-abroad program. But, when the trip concluded, Warmbier was stopped at Pyongyang International Airport before he could get on a plane to leave the country. He was subsequently charged with a crime against the state of North Korea and was eventually sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
When I wrote an article about Warmbier’s initial arrest in March of last year, I predicted that North Korea would release him in a short amount of time. That prediction turned out to be wrong, as Warmbier did not return to the United States until a week ago.
US officials were able to form an agreement with North Korean officials to bring Warmbier back to his home country. However, upon arrival, it was revealed to the public that he was brought back to the US because of a severe medical condition. Warmbier was in a coma medically induced when he came back to the US. North Korea contends this was due to a specific chain of events: contracting botulism then taking a sleeping pill which led to him slipping into a coma.
However, after being examined by US doctors, that claim was disputed. The doctors asserted that Warmbier sustained a “severe neurological injury”. Although botulism does result in nerve damage, the tests did not reveal that Warmbier had any history of botulism.
Doctors described Warmbier’s state as “wakeful unresponsiveness” where he could not voluntarily move or communicate. Further tests suggested that he was not severely beaten since his nervous system was the only thing affected.
Ultimately, the 22-year-old succumbed to his injury. It has been reported that he died with his family by his side around 2:20 p.m. on Monday.
When I first covered this story I made it a point to tell my readers that one does not want to screw around in North Korea. Now that this has happened, I have another suggestion: DO NOT TRAVEL TO NORTH KOREA. Despite his supposed crime against the state, his punishment was not nearly proportional to the crime he allegedly committed and in the end, it cost him his life. North Korea is widely recognized as a brutal regime that will treat its own citizens and foreign citizens particularly cruel, so why even take the risk of traveling there?
There is not any specific and credible information at this time that sheds light on how Warmbier sustained this injury; however, if this incident says anything it is that the North Korean government is definitely as cruel as they are portrayed to be in the US.
–Contributed by: Bobby Amendola