In the end, there was no definitive evidence whether or not he was beaten.” The staffer claimed that the government never got further intelligence reports indicating Otto was beaten. The once vital young man was severely brain-damaged. “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” The group then returned to their hotel, known as the “Alcatraz of Fun” because of its island location. They lived at his bedside until, six days after returning home, Otto died. Two North Korean doctors explained that Otto had arrived at the hospital this way more than a year before and showed as proof thick handwritten charts and several brain scans that revealed Otto had suffered extensive brain damage. The lack of physical evidence of beatings was widely publicized. “The campaign to make Otto a symbol of North Korea's cruelty was psychological preparation to justify military operations.”. One participant shared with me the private Facebook group on which the tourists discussed what happened to Warmbier after the trip. When Otto was returned in a vegetative state, Fred refocused his zeal on getting justice for him. Then they signed a largely symbolic document after North Korea promised to denuclearize and America swore to not invade, though there were no enforcement mechanisms in the document. Otto Warmbier has lost a considerable amount of brain tissue and exhibits what doctors call “spontaneous eye-opening and blinking.” He shows no sign of awareness. What else could he look forward to but physical and mental suffering? Despite eventually having his release won by Jimmy Carter, Gomes was unable to escape his post-traumatic stress disorder, and seven years later burned himself to death. Bae, Ling, and other prisoners were repeatedly told that their government had “forgotten” them and were given so little hope that they only learned of their impending freedom an hour before being released. A congressional staffer familiar with the intelligence reports said, “Before we had Otto back in the United States, we just didn't know what was going on there. We had less rights than a dog. The sleek luxury plane taxied to some hangars, where the Warmbiers waited nearby. Otto's parents weren't thrilled by the trip, but as his mother later explained, “Why would you say no to a kid like this?”. Then they picked up Yun and two other members of the State Department in Washington, D.C., and flew to Japan. Even though the Korean War had stalemated in 1953, the lack of a peace agreement meant that the North was technically still at war with the South and its ally, the U.S. When he left the United States at the end of 2015, Otto Warmbier was a healthy, athletic 21-year-old. Within 48 hours of his return, Otto had a fever that had risen to 104 degrees. Upon learning that this article did not support claims that Otto was beaten, and included the theory that he may have attempted suicide—a possibility that the family, through their lawyer, dismissed categorically—the Warmbiers withdrew a statement that they had previously provided. Bergman said he hoped he would not have to travel to Pyongyang 99 more times. In early November, Congress backed banking restrictions against North Korea that were named for Otto. Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in 2016 after being convicted of attempting to … Pneumonia, a blood clot, kidney failure or sepsis could have killed Otto Warmbier, but he almost certainly never had a chance of recovering, neurologists … By the time paramedics carried Otto out of the plane by his legs and armpits and loaded him into an ambulance, Cindy had recovered somewhat. Phoenix Air immediately rerouted its best aircraft—a luxury Gulfstream G-III jet upgraded into a flying E.R.—from Senegal to its headquarters, outside Atlanta, where Flueckiger and his team got it loaded and airborne again in less than two hours on Saturday. As Cindy told the United Nations in New York City, “I can't let Otto die in vain.” In April 2018, the Warmbiers, seeking damages, filed a lawsuit alleging that North Korea “brutally tortured and murdered” their son. From that point on, the White House no longer focused on Otto's tragedy. Wearing an American-flag tie, Fred watched his son “complete his journey home” with a haggard stare. They were likely unaware of Otto’s condition. Nor is it to imply that the senior government official lied to The New York Times about the intelligence reports, as some analysts suggested to me; that person seems to have correctly described them. Share. Likely, the reports were just hearsay. Otto Warmbier was transferred to an ambulance upon his return home to Cincinnati in June 2017. His personal life is in shambles, Robert Mueller looms large, and it's never been trickier to be the president's son. I don't think it ever crossed his desk, because I think he would have actually liked it.”. But Otto would never recover to tell his side of the story. Sadness flooded him. It … After putting down a deposit for a $1,200 five-day, four-night “New Year's Party Tour,” Otto learned from the confirmation e-mail that his visa would be arranged by the company and presented to him when he met the tour group at the Beijing airport. Every few weeks from February 2016 to August 2016, Richardson or Mickey Bergman, his senior adviser, traveled to the city to meet the New York Channel. What incentive would they have to lose a valuable bargaining chip, especially when they had never been so thoughtless before? Yun, too, couldn't help but think of his own son, around Otto's age, and about how the Warmbiers would feel when they saw their boy. And in this political age, where truth seems enslaved to the agendas of the powerful, it is important to consider what story we believe and why. But as he chatted with his guides, he knew his informal offers were being conveyed up the chain. But her findings, and those of the doctors who had attended Otto, contradicted the Warmbiers' assertions. But whatever they believe, what is clear is that they are loving parents, dealing with an unimaginably tragic loss, who have been striving to honor Otto's legacy. The three Korean-Americans, all detained on charges of espionage or “hostile acts against the state,” had had almost no contact with the outside world since being arrested, and they all cried as they dictated messages for their families to Yun. Cindy was prepared for her son to be changed, but she had not expected this. What happened to Otto Warmbier? Flueckiger wondered, for the body looked so different from the pictures he had seen of the homecoming king. What happened to Otto Warmbier? Instead, Pence invited Fred Warmbier to sit with him in the VIP box at the opening ceremony, not ten feet from Kim's sister. And as if it weren't enough that he was prom king, his peers also anointed him with the plastic crown at homecoming. Otto Frederick Warmbier (December 12, 1994 – June 19, 2017) was an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea in 2016 on a charge of subversion. When his boss called to ask if he would help rescue Otto from North Korea, he briefly hesitated from fear, but he decided he couldn't ask any of his employees to go in his stead. When he left the United States at the end of 2015, Otto Warmbier was a healthy, athletic 21-year-old. But King had no leverage over Pyongyang. Flueckiger clapped beside Otto's ear. The likelihood that his brain damage happened immediately after the sentencing, however, raises the possibility that he may have attempted suicide. The death of Otto Warmbier last year amid allegations he was brutally tortured by the North Korean government became a catalyst for President Trump's June summit with dictator Kim Jong-un, but the circumstances of his death may not be so clear, Doug Bock Clark writes for GQ. In restaurants, hotel lobbies, and coffee shops near the United Nations, they would hold polite negotiations with the regime's representatives. When presented with the findings of this article, the Trump administration declined to comment. Ultimately, they declined to comment for this story. Days before, doctors said … But Otto's alien keening only continued, impossible to comfort. But the North Koreans were still not ready to release Otto. Video post by @adamsmith1922gm. Whatever happened during those lost hours, when Gratton returned to his and Otto's room, around 4:30 A.M. on January 1, Otto was already snoozing. Fred told Otto that he had missed him and was overjoyed to have him home. “They had to resuscitate him, then give him oxygen and put him on a ventilator, or he would die.” As Yun, the negotiator who helped free Otto, said, “The doctors were clear that he had been brought to the hospital within a day of his trial, and that he had been in that same room until I saw him.”. In doing so, the Trump administration may have fostered misperceptions in the Warmbier family itself. On a humid morning in June 2017, in a suburb outside Cincinnati, Fred and Cindy Warmbier waited in agony. The unlucky are tortured to death. But happened to him and why did he die? The president pushed this narrative. Yun explained, “The North Koreans said we could send a delegation to see Otto, but that we would have to discuss some of the conditions of getting him out once we got there.” And so Yun raced to assemble a diplomatic and medical team to save Otto. Though there was no way that Otto could communicate with them, they wrote, “he was home, and we believe he could sense that.” Otto, they said, was finally “at peace.”. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement (updated 1/1/20) and Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement (updated 1/1/20) and Your California Privacy Rights. After an uncomfortably long time, Gratton noticed that the officers were intently scrutinizing the documents. And how did his eventual death help push America closer toward war with North Korea and then, in a surprising reversal, help lead to Trump's peace summit with Kim Jong-un? Even though the state imprisons and sometimes executes citizens trying to flee it, it permits thousands of foreigners to visit every year on tightly controlled tours—one of the few ways its sanction-crippled economy makes cash. Shortly after Otto was arrested, Ohio governor John Kasich connected the Warmbiers with Bill Richardson, the affable former governor of New Mexico and ambassador to the United Nations, who was leading a foundation that specializes in under-the-radar “fringe diplomacy” to release hostages from hostile regimes or criminal organizations. Otto Warmbier, American student detained by North Korea, dies. But if the maverick boldness that the administration displayed in rescuing Otto represents the best of Trumpism, what followed once it was clear the reports were flawed encapsulates its troubling disregard for facts when a dubious narrative supports its interests. After the election, as Robert King transitioned into retirement, Otto's case was taken up by the newly appointed U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun. When Fred hugged Otto that first night in the air ambulance, he felt that he couldn't get through to him and that his son was “very uncomfortable—almost anguished.” But “within a day, the countenance of his face changed,” the Warmbiers said. By April, however, relations had thawed to the point that Yun was able to persuade Secretary Tillerson to let him discuss freeing Otto face-to-face with senior North Korean officials, as long as no broader diplomacy was done. The next day, as the Gulfstream rocketed toward the edge of North Korean airspace, all the Japanese air-traffic controllers could do was aim the plane at Pyongyang and tell the pilot to proceed straight for 20 miles, as there is no official flight path between the countries. So Yun traveled to Norway to meet several high-level North Korean officials on the sidelines of secret nuclear negotiations, conducted by retired diplomats to get around the lack of official contact. Stepping from the boat, Otto “was a little bit shocked,” said Danny Gratton, an impish British 40-something greeting-card salesman who was his roommate for the tour. Fred barely even looked at her as he sat in grieving dignity, his sorrow rebuking her serene ambassadorial smirk. “And we determined at the time that we needed to get him and the other prisoners out as soon as possible, and I should contact Pyongyang and say I wanted to come right away.”. “The challenge that we had was that we could not get Donald Trump,” Bergman said. And no matter how nice his suite, it was also a cell, for he would have been allowed out only for an occasional escorted walk. The two fringe diplomats put together a photo-op-worthy proposal for the Trump plane to pick Otto up in advance of the inauguration, before bureaucracy hemmed in the new president. His wavy brown locks had been buzzed off. Fred and Cindy declared on TV that their son had been physically tortured, in order to spotlight the dictatorship's evil. “In the 15 years I've been negotiating with him, he's always been honest.” Senator Portman and sources working inside North Korea at the time also stressed that the foreign ministry didn't know. A senior American official asserted that, according to intelligence reports, Otto had been repeatedly beaten. A meticulous planner, he filled a calendar hung on his dorm wall with handwritten commitments: from assignments to dates to bringing differently abled friends to basketball games. Otto Warmbier’s death on June 19 was due to an unknown injury that occurred more than a year before his death, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said at a news conference. “The staff at Friendship Hospital said they received Otto the morning after the trial and that when he came in he was unresponsive,” Dr. Flueckiger told me. When I met former detainee Bae in the Seoul office of his NGO dedicated to helping North Korean defectors, he told me, “Being imprisoned was lonely, isolating, and frustrating. “President Trump, I ask you: Bring my son home,” he said. But shortly after Otto's conviction in Pyongyang, Richardson sensed that the previously communicative foreign ministry was having its information cut off by Kim Jong-un's obstinate inner circle—a transition, his team would later realize, that probably dated from Otto's injury. Pueblo were beaten in 1968, there have been no clear-cut cases of North Korea physically torturing American prisoners. The State Department had an advisory in place against traveling to North Korea, where he'd be beyond the American government's power to directly help him. As the sun went down, a crowd waved handmade signs welcoming Otto home, and TV crews pushed their cameras against the bars of the perimeter fence. Around the same time as Otto's death, U.S. hostilities with North Korea were growing heated. Since the beginning of 2018, North Korea, hamstrung by sanctions and spooked by full-on preparations for war in Otto's name, had been trying to reset relations with the outside world. He traveled to Washington more than a dozen times in 2016 to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-level politicians. When the three remaining American detainees were released in May, Trump welcomed them home by saying, “We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people.”. If Otto was “repeatedly beaten,” as the intel reports suggested, it would logically have been during the two to six weeks between his sentencing, when videos of him showed no signs of physical damage, and “April,” as the North Korean brain scan was dated. Finally, Yun persuaded the North Koreans to let him see Otto. The lucky survive on starvation rations while enduring routine beatings and dangerous enforced labor, like coal mining. “His body was in excellent condition,” Sammarco said.