Former North Korean prisoner returns home to Cincinnati, taken straight to UCMC

Otto Warmbier, of Wyoming, was jailed last year
AP: North Korea releases imprisoned Wyoming man
Posted at 9:36 AM, Jun 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-14 12:59:50-04

CINCINNATI -- Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student from Wyoming, Ohio, who was imprisoned 17 months in North Korea, arrived late Tuesday night at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for evaluation.

Warmbier was medically evacuated Tuesday from the reclusive country in a coma that began shortly after his trial in March 2016, his parents told reporters in a prepared statement. He was taken directly from his plane at Lunken Airport to the hospital at about 11 p.m. Tuesday.

"We learned of (his coma) only one week ago," the Warmbier family's statement said. "We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korea. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him."

The Washington Post reported a North Korean account of Warmbier's condition, which claimed he came down with botulism soon after his hourlong trial and that he never woke up after being given a sleeping pill. The article noted there was no way of knowing yet whether the North Korean version of events was accurate.

Later in the evening, the New York Times reported a senior American intelligence official told its staff Warmbier had been severely beaten. The state department, the NYT wrote, even worried that he had been killed during his imprisonment. Given North Korea's history of brutally abusing dissidents and political prisoners, it wasn't out of the question.

Warmbier was arrested early in 2016 while visiting the country with a tour group and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor after being accused of stealing a propaganda sign at a hotel in Pyongyang, the capital.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that the State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Donald Trump. Tillerson said the State Department continues discussing three other detained Americans with North Korea.

RELATED: One year later, little is known of Otto Warmbier's circumstances in North Korea

Trump was informed early last week of Warmbier's medical condition and immediately ordered his medical evacuation, The Washington Post reports, citing "people with knowledge of the process." State Department officials and doctors traveled to Pyongyang on a military medical plane to bring Warmbier out and then accompany him from Japan to Cincinnati.

The announcement came the same day that former NBA player Dennis Rodman was paying a return visit to North Korea.

RELATED: Did Dennis Rodman rescue Tri-State man jailed in North Korea?

Laura Neack, Miami University professor of political science, suspects North Korea has gotten something in return for Warmbier's release, but doesn't know what that may be. 

"We get the release of this very ill student and that’s a good thing, but we don’t know what North Korea gets. They get something. They didn’t do this just for goodwill," Neack said.

Warmbier would have graduated in May from the University of Virginia had he not been detained. University President Teresa A. Sullivan expressed the school's relief with an official statement Tuesday.

“While the entire University of Virginia community is relieved to learn of Otto’s release from North Korea, we are deeply concerned and saddened to learn from his family that he is in a coma. The last 17 months have been an extremely difficult and emotionally trying time for the Warmbier family. The UVA family will continue to keep the Warmbiers in our thoughts and prayers as Otto returns to the United States and his home where he will receive the care and support of those who love him.”

Warmbier is a Wyoming High School graduate. His father, Fred, owns a company with locations in Hamilton and Evendale. In January, the family declined to comment on the situation with WCPO. 

Wyoming City Schools released the following statement Tuesday afternoon: "We are heartened to hear of reports of the release of Otto Warmbier. Otto and his entire family are in our thoughts."

Warmbier's family members declined to speak with the press Tuesday but said they plan to hold a news conference Thursday.