Public funeral planned for student freed from N. Korea
Cincinnati — A public funeral service is planned Thursday at a high school attended by a 22-year-old college student who was held for nearly a year and a half in North Korea and died shortly after he was sent home to Ohio in a coma.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammaraco said the office accepted the case of Otto Warmbier, who died Monday in a Cincinnati hospital. Justin Weber told The Associated Press that a news conference is expected later to provide more information.
The coroner’s office daily report Tuesday included Warmbier in its listings with cause of death termed “pending.”
Wambier’s parents did not cite a specific cause of death, but cited “awful, torturous mistreatment” by North Korea. Doctors had described Warmbier’s condition as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and said he suffered a “severe neurological injury” of unknown cause.
The funeral will be held at 9 a.m. at Wyoming High School, where Warmbier was an athlete and salutatorian of his 2013 class.
“All those that wish to join his family in celebrating his life are cordially invited,” said the Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum.
Warmbier was returned to Ohio on June 13 after being held for more than 17 months.
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting with a tour group and was convicted of subversion.
He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His family said it was told he had been in a coma since soon after his sentencing.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Warmbier’s death after his lengthy detention in North Korea was a “total disgrace” and that if the college student had been returned home to the U.S. earlier, “I think the result would have been a lot different.”
North Korea must bear “heavy responsibility” for Warmbier’s death, said South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
He said in an interview on “CBS This Morning” broadcast Tuesday that while it’s not clear exactly what happened, there can be speculation that North Korea made “unjust and cruel treatments” to Warmbier.
Doctors said Warmbier suffered extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes opened and blinked but without any sign that he understood verbal commands or his surroundings.
Unresponsive wakefulness is a new medical term for persistent vegetative state. Patients in this condition can open their eyes but do not respond to commands. People can live in a state of unresponsive wakefulness for many years with the chances of recovery depending on the extent of the brain injury.
North Korea said Warmbier went into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill. Doctors in Cincinnati said they found no active sign of botulism or evidence of beatings.
Warmbier had planned to study in China in his third year of college and heard about Chinese travel companies offering trips to North Korea. He was leaving North Korea on Jan. 2, 2016, when he was detained at the airport.
The organizers of Warmbier’s trip say they will no longer take U.S. citizens to the country. Young Pioneer Tours said Tuesday on Facebook that his death shows that the risk American tourists face in visiting North Korea “has become too high.”
The U.S. Department of State warns against travel to North Korea. While nearly all Americans who have been there have left without incident, visitors can be seized and face lengthy incarceration for what might seem like minor infractions.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. John McCain said that Americans who are “stupid” enough to still want to visit North Korea should be required to sign a waiver absolving the U.S. government of any blame if they’re harmed while there.
Three Americans remain held in North Korea. The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.