Otto Warmbier is coming home. However, instead of being granted an early reprieve from his harsh 15-year sentence to hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster in a Pyongyang hotel in North Korea, the now 23-year-old University of Virginia student is returning due to having lapsed into a coma, according to a statement from Warmbier’s parents.
The US State Department would neither confirm nor deny the physical condition of Mr. Warmbier. However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did concede that a diplomatic mission was dispatched to North Korea to secure his release at the direction of President Donald Trump.
Bill Richardson, former governor of the US State of New Mexico and frequent North Korea troubleshooter, is on the record with the New York Times saying that Mr. Warmbier has been in a comatose state for “over a year now and urgently needs proper medical care.”
Warmbier made a publicized tearful confession ahead of his sentence to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea
Another unnamed US official told the NYTimes that Warmbier had been repeatedly beaten while in North Korean custody, and that there was concern among the intelligence community that Warmbier had died.
North Korea says that Warmbier slipped into a coma last year shortly after his sentence in March 2016. Officials say he contracted botulism and became comatose after taking a sleeping pill.
It appears Warmbier was sprung from his detainment in North Korea after Joseph Yun, a State Department envoy to North Korea, was sent on orders from Trump himself to bring the maligned young man home. Exact details and machinations that led to Warmbier’s release are not known; typical for news involving the two nations who do not have official diplomatic ties.
One thing is clear, however. The presence of Dennis Rodman in North Korea had nothing to do with Warmbier’s release. Rodman, the iconic NBA star known just as widely for his on-court exploits as he is for befriending North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is currently visiting North Korea.
Dennis Rodman is in North Korea this week
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “Dennis Rodman did not have anything to do with the release of Otto Warmbier.”
Mr. Warmbier was 21 years old when he was initially detained in North Korea in early 2016 after visiting the eccentric nation with Chinese company Young Pioneer Tours during the New Year holiday. He was detained at Pyongyang Airport as he tried to leave in January 2016 after allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel. He had been detained for a total of 17 months upon the time of his release.
According to a tweet by local reporters in Warmbier’s hometown, Otto touched down in Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport on Tuesday night. He was then evacuated to an area hospital for further treatment.