Otto Warmbier believed to have suffered ‘severe neurological injury’

Father casts doubts on North Korea’s version of events leading to son’s coma


At the press conference, Fred Warmbier wore the same white jacket his son, Otto Warmbier, wore when he confessed in February 2016 to attempting to take a political banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel. 

University student Otto Warmbier is believed to have suffered a “severe neurological injury,” but is in stable condition, according to University of Cincinnati Medical Center spokesperson Kelly Martin, who spoke at a press conference Thursday morning.

Warmbier was released Tuesday from North Korea, where he had been jailed for more than 17 months. He is believed to have been in a coma for more than a year. The North Korean government said Warmbier had suffered from botulism and was given a sleeping pill, but never woke up.

During the press conference — which was held at Wyoming High School, Otto Warmbier’s alma mater — Otto’s father, Fred Warmbier, noted the family has doubts about North Korea’s version of events.

Fred Warmbier opened by saying he chose to wear the jacket Otto wore when he publicly confessed to stealing a political banner from a staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International hotel. It is not clear whether the February 2016 confession was coerced by the North Korean government.

“The burden of our ordeal has been eased by the support we have experienced, not only from our friends in Cincinnati, but through Ohio, at the University of Virginia, throughout the United States and, indeed, from around the world,” Warmbier said.

Warmbier emphasized in his opening statement a “bittersweet feeling” of having Otto home.

“Relief that Otto is now home, in the arms of those that love him, and anger that he was so brutally treated for so long,” Warmbier said. “We went for 15 months without a word from or about Otto.”

Warmbier said the Obama administration urged the family to maintain a low profile while the administration tried to retrieve Otto. Earlier this year, the family decided to meet with ambassador Joseph Yun at the State Department earlier this year.

“It is my understanding that Ambassador Yun and his team, at the direction of the President [Donald Trump], aggressively pursued resolution of the situation,” Warmbier said. “They have our thanks for bringing Otto home.”

Warmbier took questions from the reporters, many of whom asked about Otto’s well-being. One reporter asked what Warmbier said to his son during his return to the United States.

“I knelt down by his side and I hugged him,” Warmbier answered. “I told him I missed him and I was so glad that he made it home.”

Warmbier confirmed several reports in the conference, including that no one had seen or heard from Otto since March 2016 and that former NBA player Dennis Rodman, who traveled to North Korea at the same time of Otto’s release, was not involved in Otto’s release. Warmbier said recently, they decided to go public with their situation and shortly thereafter, Otto was home.

“We did what we could, we tried to stay low, we were advised that it was important that you don’t upset the North Koreans,” Warmbier said. “We followed that logic and then there came a time that doesn’t seem to have any impact, so we went public with an interview on the Tucker Carlson Show and did a couple written pieces, and then very quickly, we have Otto home.”

When asked what he would say to the North Korean regime, Warmbier said he would say he was proud of Otto.

“I’m so proud of Otto, my son, who has been in a pariah regime for the last 18 months, brutalized and terrorized,” Warmbier said. “He’s now home with his family, and I am so tremendously proud of Otto. His spirit is with us, and I can share my spirit with his spirit, and I am so happy for that.”

Otto Warmbier’s medical team will hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss his medical condition, Martin said.  

related stories