“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” the statement said. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
Former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, an expert on North Korea who has helped free other Americans held there, said in an interview on Monday that he had met with North Korean diplomats 20 times while Mr. Warmbier was being held, and that they had never hinted that anything was amiss with Mr. Warmbier’s health.
Mr. Richardson called on the North to release the three other Americans it is holding, as well as a Canadian hostage, and to “disclose what happened to Otto, fully, to the international community.”
Mr. Warmbier, a onetime high school soccer player and homecoming king with an adventuresome spirit, was traveling in China in December 2015 when he signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with a Chinese company that advertised “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.”
He was detained at the Pyongyang airport in early January 2016, charged with a “hostile act” against the country’s authoritarian government and convicted less than two months later of trying to steal a propaganda poster, after he delivered a tearful, televised confession. His trial lasted one hour.
His parents, who live in the tiny city of Wyoming, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, had heard nothing of him since his trial. Then, about two weeks ago, they received a call telling them their son was comatose. Days later, he was on a flight home. At a news conference on Thursday morning, Fred Warmbier — wearing the same cream-colored jacket Otto had worn during his trial — recalled kneeling to hug his son when he finally arrived home late last Tuesday.