Only about a week has elapsed since ex-North Korean detainee Otto Warmbier returned to the United States in a coma after 17 months in custody. Sadly, he passed away after suffering from what his doctors say were severe neurological injuries that he acquired while in North Korea. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for removing a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a church trip. On Friday, unlikely diplomat Dennis Rodman tried to claim credit for Otto’s release, and President Trump has blamed the Obama administration for not making it happen sooner.
As for North Korea itself? Pyongyang first attributed Otto’s condition to botulism. This can indeed lead to a comatose state if left untreated, which makes this case even more difficult to investigate although Otto’s family and doctors aren’t buying it. Now, the official Korean Central News Agency has spoken out, via the Washington Post, to say this tragedy is a total mystery to them. Further, North Korea is painting itself as a victim:
“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well. To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident.”
North Korea also further reemphasized their stance that Otto’s sentence was deserving of his offense, which they maintain was an act of subversion against the government while also attempting to ward off “groundless” accusations that Otto was tortured or beaten. And of course, Pyongyang says that Otto’s early release was an act of humanitarianism. An Ohio coroner is currently leading the ongoing investigation into his cause of death with more developments hopefully forthcoming in the future.
On Thursday, approximately 2,500 people gathered to pay their respects at Otto’s high school near Cincinnati. CNN reports that Otto’s college counseling director, Cynthia Meis, told mourners, “He was going to set the world on fire, which is why this loss is so profound.”