Fred Warmbier — the father of the University of Virginia student who is in a coma following his release from North Korea — accused the country of lying about the reasons for his son’s coma.
North Korea released 22-year-old Otto Warmbier Tuesday after he spent 17 months in detention for stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel during a tour of the secretive state last year. Warmbier was accused of committing a “hostile act” and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor after a televised confession.
American officials informed Warmbier’s family in Cincinnati that North Korea had told them he had been in a coma after he contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill, the Washington Post reported. After Warmbier’s plane landed in the US late Tuesday, he was taken in an ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
At a press conference Thursday, Fred Warmbier — who wore the jacket his son was wearing when he gave his forced confession — said that the family refused to believe North Korea’s explanation for Otto’s coma.
It was only a week ago that the family was informed of the North Korean government’s claims that Otto was “in a coma for almost all” of the 17 months he was imprisoned, Fred Warmbier said.
“Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma — and we don’t — there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long,” Fred Warmbier said.
A spokesperson for the University of Cincinnati Medical Center told BuzzFeed News that Otto “has a severe neurological injury and is in stable condition.”
Botulism is a rare, serious illness contracted through contaminated food or an open wound, that can lead to breathing difficulties, muscle paralysis and respiratory failure.
Fred Warmbier called North Korea a “pariah regime,” “brutal,” and “terroristic.”
“We don’t believe anything they say,” he said.
Fred Warmbier said that the University of Cincinnati Medical Center was providing Otto with “the excellent medical care he has been denied for so long.” He said the hospital would hold a press conference to discuss his medical status later on Thursday.
He said the family had “few answers” about what transpired in North Korea.
He said he felt “disbelief” when they got a call last Tuesday that Otto was in a coma in North Korea.
“Couldn’t sit down. I don’t know what being in shock is, but I’m pretty sure I was,” Fred Warmbier said. “We’ve been brutalized for the last 18 months with misinformation, no information.”
“There’s no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son and no excuse for the way they have treated so many others,” he said. “I call on them to release the other Americans being held. No other family should have to endure what the Warmbiers have.”
Fred Warmbier also thanked President Trump for his government’s efforts in securing Otto’s release. He appeared to criticize Obama’s administration for not doing enough to help them.
“Do I think the past administration could have done more? I think the results speak for themselves,” he said.
He said Trump called him and his wife Cindy Warmbier Wednesday night to find out how they were doing and to ask about Otto. “It was a really nice conversation,” Fred Warmbier said.
North Korea on Thursday said it released Otto Warmbier on “humanitarian grounds” but did not provide any other details about his medical condition or the negotiations of his release, the New York Times reported.
Fred Warmbier blamed North Korea for taking his son “hostage” as he was trying to leave the country. He said the regime “lured Americans” to travel there via tour groups run out of China with false claims of it being a safe place.
“Otto’s a young, thrill-seeking, great kid who was going to be in that part of the world for a college experience,” Fred Warmbier said. “[North Koreans] lure Americans, and then they take them hostage and then they do things to them, and that’s what happened to my son.”
Fred Warmbier also said that Dennis Rodman — who traveled to North Korea on the same day that Otto was released — “had nothing to do with Otto.”
“It’s a diversion, I’m sure,” he said. “This is all planned.”