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Human Interest

Otto Wambier's Father Breaks Down Describing Family's Anguish During His 18 Months in North Korean Prison

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The 22-year-old college student who was released from imprisonment in North Korea in a coma on Tuesday is in stable condition but has suffered a “severe neurological injury,” a University of Cincinnati Medical Center spokeswoman revealed Thursday.

At a news conference Thursday morning in their home state of Ohio, Otto Warmbier’s father, Fred Warmbier, said there’s “no excuse” for North Korea’s treatment of his son, adding that he fell to his knees and hugged him when he was carried off a plane on Tuesday night.

The University of Virginia student was sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labor for allegedly stealing a political propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel in January 2016.

John Minchillo/AP
Bill Pugliano/Getty

Kyodo

Wearing the same jacket his son wore during his March 2016 trial, Fred said: “We’ve been brutalized over the last 18 months with misinformation, no information. We are proud of the fact that our family is basically happy, positive people and we’re going to stay that way and we’re thrilled our son is on American soil.”

North Korea reportedly told a U.S. official that Otto contracted botulism and slipped into the coma after taking a sleeping pill. The country said they released the college student on “humanitarian grounds.”

“Otto, I love you and I’m so crazy about you, I’m so glad you’re home, you are such a great guy,” Fred said through tears during the press conference. “My family has been rock solid throughout this, we have supported one another.”

John Minchillo/AP

When asked about similarities between Otto and the three other U.S. citizens who are currently imprisoned in the country, he said: “Otto is a young university student who was on a tour with other university students. He’s never been in trouble in his life. He wasn’t trying to do anything in the country. Otto was considered a war criminal.”

The other American detainees are Kim Dong-chul, 62, who was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years of hard labor for spying; Kim Sang-duk, who was detained in April of this year, and Kim Hak-song, who was detained last month for “hostile acts.”

In an interview with Fox News, Fred said that the North Korean regime who held his son captive for over a year are “terrorists” and that his son is “not in great shape right now.”

“They’re brutal. There’s no sense to anything here,” he said in the interview, which airs Thursday at 8 p.m. “They’ve crossed a line with my son, Otto. It would be very difficult to look for a lesson here amongst this insanity.”

Otto was carried off a plane by his legs and under his arms on Tuesday night and remains hospitalized at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

He returned home to Ohio on Tuesday in a coma after being “brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime,” his family said in a statement.

“The lessons of Otto’s captivity in North Korea, that’s going to be for others to decide,” Fred continued. “The Warmbiers have been living with this situation for 18 months, there’s no meaning here. This is a rogue, pariah regime.”

Fred went on to reveal that the family is “adjusting to a different reality” after welcoming him back home.