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Coroner: US student Otto Warmbier imprisoned in North Korea died from ‘lack of oxygen to the brain, but we can’t say it was torture’

Otto Warmbier (Twitter)
September 28, 2017

American student Otto Warmbier, who was detained and imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months, died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain, a coroner said on Wednesday.

“We don’t know what happened to him and that’s the bottom line,” Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said at a news conference on Wednesday, Reuters reported. There was not enough evidence to conclude that Warmbier was tortured, she pointed out, unless those responsible come forward and say exactly what took place.

“We don’t have enough evidence… to draw any complete conclusions,” she said when asked if Warmbier had been tortured, saying that investigators found only small scars on his body and did not observe any healing fractures.

“We don’t know what happened to him. That’s the bottom line,” Sammarco said. “… We’re never going to know, unless the people who were there come forward and say, ‘This is what happened to Otto.'”


Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergrad student, was medically evacuated from North Korea and returned to the United States this past June in a coma. He died not long after, on June 19.

His death was due to an unknown injury that took place at least a year prior, Sammarco said.

Warmbier had been in a coma for 15 of the 17 months he was detained in North Korea.

Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said that Warmbier was “in a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” and had suffered severe brain injury.

Warmbier was medically evacuated from North Korea this past June, through the efforts of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Trump Administration. He arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 13.

Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts.

Warmbier was detained in January 2016 in Pyongyang on his way home from North Korea. North Korean officials said they had footage of him trying to steal a political banner that was hanging on the wall in his hotel, according to a report.

Warmbier was found guilty during a one-hour trial in North Korea’s Supreme Court.

Warmbier’s parents have come out and said their son was the victim of North Korean brutality and terrorism, and that when he returned home, he was “blind and deaf,” and “it looked like someone had taken a pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

(Screen Shot/Washington Post Video)