Publish date:
Updated on

Otto Warmbier returns from North Korean prison in a coma

On June 12, 2017 Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student who was taken prisoner in North Korea 17 months earlier, returned home to the United States in a comatose state. His return marked a warming of relations between the U.S. and the pariah state known for its extensive human-rights abuses, casting new attention on how North Korea treats foreigners in captivity.

After a five-day stay in the country as part of an organized adventure trip, the University of Virginia student was arrested at Pyongyang airport in January 2016 for allegedly taking a propaganda poster from his hotel room. His trial lasted just one hour, and he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison. By March, he was in a coma.

Warmbier’s release came after North Korean officials reached out to the United States in May for an emergency meeting. The two countries put aside tensions around North Korea’s nuclear program in order to negotiate terms for setting Warmbier free. Otto was medically evacuated and flown back to Ohio, where he was greeted by his parents and a small crowd of supporters. That same night, he was brought to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Doctors said he suffered from cardiopulmonary arrest and was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness. They said scans showed extensive brain damage, possibly due to abuse. The North Korean authorities explained his condition by saying that he had contracted botulism and taken a sleeping pill.

A week later, Otto Warmbier was dead.

His parents released a statement saying his death was an inevitable result of “the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans.” But they felt bringing their son home put him at peace.

“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable—almost anguished,” they wrote. “Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day, the countenance of his face changed—he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.”

A month after Warmbier’s death, American citizens were banned from traveling to North Korea.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Philippine independence declared

During the Spanish-American War, Filipino rebels led by Emilio Aguinaldo proclaim the independence of the Philippines after 300 years of Spanish rule. By mid-August, Filipino rebels and U.S. troops had ousted the Spanish, but Aguinaldo’s hopes for independence were dashed when more

Germany prepares to occupy Paris

On this day in 1940, 54,000 British and French troops surrender to German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at St. Valery-en-Caux, on the northern Channel border, as the Germans continue their gains in France. Even after the evacuation of Dunkirk by the British Expeditionary Force, tens more

South Vietnamese premier resigns

Mounting Roman Catholic opposition to South Vietnamese Premier Phan Huy Quat’s government leads him to resign. The next day a military triumvirate headed by Army General Nguyen Van Thieu took over and expanded to a 10-man National Leadership Committee on June 14. The Committee more

Big Red sets record at Belmont Stakes

On this day in 1920, Man O’ War wins the 52nd Belmont Stakes, and sets the record for the fastest mile ever run by a horse to that time. Man O’ War was the biggest star yet in a country obsessed with horse racing, and the most successful thoroughbred of his generation. Man O’ War more

John F. Kennedy receives medals

Lieutenant John F. Kennedy receives one of the Navy’s highest honor for gallantry for his heroic actions as a gunboat pilot during World War II on this day in 1944. The future president also received a Purple Heart for wounds received during battle. As a young man, Kennedy had more

George Herbert Walker Bush is born

The first Bush president, George Herbert Walker Bush, is born in Milton, Massachusetts. Bush served in the Navy during World War II and survived a harrowing ordeal when his torpedo bomber was shot down over the Pacific. Bush drifted in the water for several hours until a U.S. more

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murdered

Nicole Brown Simpson, famous football player O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, and her friend Ron Goldman are brutally stabbed to death outside Nicole’s home in Brentwood, California, in what quickly becomes one of the most highly publicized trials of the century. With overwhelming more

J.E.B. Stuart rides around the Union army

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart begins his ride around the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsular campaign in Virginia, after being sent on a reconnaissance of Union positions by Robert E. Lee. Four days later, Stuart had circled the entire Yankee force, 105,000 strong, and more