The father of the comatose American college student released from North Korea’s custody said Thursday that his son “fought to stay alive” through the “brutality” and “terror” he endured while serving hard labor in a North Korean prison for more than a year.
Otto Warmbier is in stable condition now but has suffered a “severe neurological injury,” a hospital representative said at a news conference Thursday. North Korea released the 22-year-old University of Virginia student Tuesday on “humanitarian grounds,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. He arrived in his hometown of Cincinnati in a coma after being medically evacuated, according to the Associated Press.
Otto’s father, Fred Warmbier, told reporters his son’s return is “bittersweet” — he's relieved Otto is home but furious about how he was treated in prison.
“There is no excuse for how the North Koreans treated our son,” Fred Warmbier said. “Otto is a fighter and [my wife] and I firmly believe he fought to stay alive through the worst the North Koreans put him through.”
Fred Warmbier got emotional as he revealed he was wearing the same jacket his son wore when he gave a televised confession and apology in North Korea in February 2016.
Otto Warmbier had been serving a 15-year prison sentence with hard labor for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel in Pyongyang. North Korea considered such an act “hostile” and illegal.
The family had gone 15 months without hearing a word from Otto. North Korean officials have said Warmbier suffered the brain injury after he contracted botulism, a form of poisoning, while in detention, but his family has questioned that narrative.
Fred Warmbier blasted North Korea for keeping his son’s comatose condition a “secret” and denying him “top-notch” medical treatment for months.
Otto Warmbier was released after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson negotiated for his return, at the direction of President Donald Trump, the administration said. Fred Warmbier said Trump called him Wednesday night to learn more about his son and give his best wishes.
Pyongyang still has three other Americans in custody, and Fred Warmbier called on North Korea on Thursday to release them, so no other family would have to suffer as his has over the past year.
“The fact that he was taken and treated this way is horrible and it’s tough to process, but we’re tremendously proud of him,” Fred Warmbier said of his son. “We’re looking to the future.”
“His spirit is with us,” he added.