When our kids are in school, their textbooks will tell them the story of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier. Or at least so says President Trump.
Otto Warmbier was a college student just like any other when he traveled to Hong Kong to study aboard, however, it was a decision he made while on that trip that changed the course of his life, and possibly the world, forever.
While in Hong Kong, Warmbier decided to take a five-day trip to North Korea with a China-based tour group called Young Pioneer Tours, who billed the trip as the one “you don’t want to tell your parents about.” On December 31, 2015, Otto and his group celebrated New Years Eve Kim Il-sung Square before returning to the Yanggakdo International Hotel, where they continued to drink. Later that night, on January 1, 2016, Warmbier was seen on security camera trying to steal a propaganda poster in a staff-only section of the hotel. It was a decision that would cost him his life.
Warmbier was arrested for attempted theft while waiting at the airport to fly back to China. On March 16, 2016, Warmbier was tried and convicted for the theft of the propaganda poster from a restricted area of the hotel and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. It was the last time he would ever be seen fully conscious.
In April 2016, approximately one month after being sentenced, Warmbier suffered what was described as “severe neurological injury” from an unknown cause. However, North Korean authorities did not disclose the severity of his medical condition until over a year later, when they announced he had fallen into a coma as a result of “botulism and a sleeping pill”.
After 17 months in captivity — 14 of which were spent in a comatose state — Warmbier was released back to the United States on June 13, 2017, and was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center for immediate evaluation and treatment. Doctors found no evidence of botulism and were unable to identify the cause of the injury, finding no obvious evidence of abuse or torture physical torture.
Despite his return the American soil, Warmbier never regained consciousness and died on June 19, 2017. And according to our President, his death will not be in vain.
364 days after Otto Warmbier returned home, President Trump and Kim Jong-un met in Singapore for an historic summit to discuss U.S.-North Korea relations and the denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Of the many scenes and soundbites to come from the meeting, this quote was one of them:
“Otto Warmbier is a very special person and he will be for a long time in my life. His parents are good friends of mine. I think without Otto, this would not have happened,” President Trump told reporters at a news conference in Singapore.
“Something happened from that day, was a terrible thing. It was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain. He had a lot to do with us today.”
And there you have it: Otto Warmbier tragically lost his life, but he may have changed the world in doing so.
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