|Photo Sam Greene AP|
Otto Warmbier was born in 1994 and grew up in Cincinnatti, Ohio, the eldest of three children. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were devoted parents to their children. As Otto grew, he became an excellent student, and developed an interest in international affairs. Upon graduation from high school, he became a double major at University of Virginia,in economics and commerce. His interest in international affairs brought him first to a visit to China. It was on the China trip that he saw an advertisement geared toward Americans for a brief tour to North Korea.
During the five day tour, he became good friends with a British man, Danny Gratton, who was his roommate during the tour. Danny recalled Otto as being bright, very polite and mature for his age. The morning of their departure, they were running late because the hotel had missed their wake up call. While at the airport, they provided their passports, and two security officials came to Otto, and had him follow. Danny remembers joking, "Well, that's the last we'll see of you."
Of course, the rest is history. Otto Warmbier was detained on the charge of stealing a political banner/poster from the hotel, which was considered "a hostile act" against the government of North Korea. Following a hasty one hour trial, Otto was condemned to a fifteen year hard labor sentence, which is rarely survived in North Korea. Incidentally, Otto's family says the theft is untrue and that Otto was threatened and coerced into a confession. The young man who might have become a diplomat someday, helping to set up international commerce between nations, had become a political pawn.
|This is what Otto Warmbier looked like prior to his imprisonment. Photo CNN|
For eighteen months following the trial Otto Warmbier's parents have had no real information. Sweden had continued to request information on Otto and his condition throughout these months.
This week, Otto Warmbier was released by North Korea on "humanitarian grounds". They claim that shortly after his trial, he became ill from botulism and from a sleeping pill, and has been in a coma like state ever since. He has been fed using a nasogastric tube and has been in a North Korean hospital for quite some time.
Otto has been transported to a teaching hospital in Cincinnatti, Ohio. Top neurologists have examined him. Their conclusion is that botulism is an unlikely causation for his condition, as it causes respiratory paralysis and death, and there is no organ damage other than to his brain. They note that his MRI study indicates severe brain damage across all regions of his brain. This is the type of damage that would occur following a protracted cardiac arrest.
Was Otto Warmbier detained for simply being an American ? Was he tried, falsely convicted, and then brutalized and tortured to the point of cardiac arrest ? Was he resuscitated just in time to prevent death, but to simply live in a persistent vegetative state ? The evidence suggests that all of this is true.
The next time someone tells me that "everyone in the world is alike" or that "evil isn't real", please remember the case of Otto Warmbier. He went from being a University of Virginia junior, with an entire life of possibilities ahead of him to being a young man in a wakeful vegetative state without recognition of language. There is no video evidence that he is alleged to have stolen a propaganda poster from a region of the hotel from which he was not permitted. His mistake was simply to have vacationed for five days in a rogue nation with a supervised tour with people from other nations.
Evil is quite real in the world, and Kim Jong-un has committed quite a bit of it, including killing his own half brother and uncles.
I had to think long and hard today as to why this course of events was quite so repugnant and so upsetting to me, and then I realized that Daniel was only two years younger than Otto. The idea that any nation could torture a young adult to the point at which he arrests and then has brain damage indicates that the leader of North Korea hasn't even taken even rudimentary steps toward being a human being.
People who wish to leave an encouraging message to Otto's family may send it here. The University of Virginia will pass these along at the appropriate time.
Please be kind. I have been horrified by a number of the heartless, uncaring, ill informed and downright bizarre comments concerning this case on Facebook.
UPDATE: Monday, June 19, 2017 The family of Otto Warmbier has just announced that Otto passed away today. My family and I send prayers to Fred and Cindy Warmbier, as well as to Otto's surviving siblings and friends. I am so terribly sorry for their loss, but I know that Otto is now safe home and set free.