North Korea Returns Captive American College Student in a Coma
North Korea has returned one of its American prisoners -- a University of Virginia student sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a regime propaganda sign who reportedly fell into a coma shortly after his sentence began.
"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," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement this morning.
"Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family, we have no further comment on Mr. Warmbier," he added.
At a State Department briefing later in the day, press secretary Heather Nauert said the government is "pleased" to have Otto Warmbier back in the United States. "What an incredible day that one of our fellow American citizens who's been detained in North Korea for more than a year -- as we had difficulty, as you all are very well aware, in reaching him," she said.
"We had to go through the government of Sweden, our protected power, in order to get any kind of information. And even then, it was extremely rare," she added. "So, we are grateful today that he is released and he is on his way back to the United States. I know and appreciate you all have a lot of questions about how all of this developed. Unfortunately, today, I'm not going to be able to answer all of that for you, even though some information was put out. I'm just not going to be able to go that far in it today."
The 22-year-old's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said in a statement that their son was taken out of North Korea on a Medevac. "Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016," they said. "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 Korea. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him."
University of Virginia president Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement that while the university community "is relieved to learn of Otto’s release from North Korea, we are deeply concerned and saddened to learn from his family that he is in a coma."
"The last 17 months have been an extremely difficult and emotionally trying time for the Warmbier family," Sullivan added. "The UVA family will continue to keep the Warmbiers in our thoughts and prayers as Otto returns to the United States and his home where he will receive the care and support of those who love him.”