Coroner’s report adds details on ex-detainee’s death

Dan Sewell
Associated Press

Cincinnati — A newly released coroner’s report couldn’t determine what led to the fatal brain damage of a young Ohioan detained for more than a year by North Korea, accused of torturing him by his parents and President Donald Trump.

A Hamilton County coroner’s report dated Sept. 11 showed cause of death for Otto Warmbier, 22, as complications of brain-damaging oxygen deprivation through “an unknown insult more than a year prior to death.” The medical term for his condition was called “chronic anoxic/ischemic encephalopathy.” Manner of death was listed as “undetermined.”

Warmbier’s parents told a Fox News TV show Tuesday that North Korea tortured and “destroyed” the University of Virginia student. Trump tweeted afterward: “Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

Trump’s tweet added to a series of recent accusations and heated exchanges between his administration and North Korean officials.

North Korea has denied mistreating Warmbier, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster two months earlier. He died in Cincinnati in June 2017, less than week after his release.

His family declined an autopsy, so the coroner’s report relied mainly on an external examination of his body. There were multiple scars and bruises, some consistent with medical treatment such as insertion of a breathing tube.

The examination by Hamilton County deputy coroner Dr. Gretel Stephens found that his body appeared “well-nourished” and his teeth in good repair.

The parents on Tuesday, for the first time, described publicly in detail the condition his family found him in when they went aboard an air ambulance that arrived June 13 in Cincinnati. His father said he was making an “involuntary, inhuman sound,” ‘’staring blankly into space jerking violently,” and was blind and deaf with his head shaved. He said his mouth “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

University of Cincinnati Health system doctors treating him in June said Warmbier arrived in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and had suffered a “severe neurological injury” of uncertain cause.

His father and the Hamilton County coroner’s office didn’t respond immediately Wednesday to requests for comments.