(WASHINGTON) — Nearly one year before President Donald Trump’s historic handshake with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, the president painted a very different picture of the “brutality” of the Kim regime following the release of an American student who was in a coma.
Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old who attended the University of Virginia, was evacuated to a medical center in Cincinnati in an unresponsive state on July 13, 2017, after close to a year and a half in captivity.
Warmbier, who was on a five-day tour of North Korea, was arrested and accused of stealing a propaganda poster. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
A family statement issued on the eve of his release said that they had just learned of the coma one week before, and expressed joy at the prospect of being reunited.
“We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korea,” the statement read. “We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him.”
Six days later, Warmbier would be dead.
North Korea claimed he slipped into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill shortly after his sentencing.
Warmbier’s detainment lasted until a special envoy sent by Trump secured his release almost 17 months after his arrest.
Doctors from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Warmbier was taken, said he suffered from injuries related to cardiopulmonary arrest and was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness, adding that scans showed extensive loss of tissue in all regions of his brain and that they found no evidence of botulism.
After Warmbier passed, Trump sent his condolences to the family and condemned “the brutality of the North Korean regime” in a statement.
The Warmbier family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Korea, claiming the regime tortured and killed their son.
Otto’s parents, Cindy and Fred, were recognized in January at Trump’s first State of the Union — a moment that brought tears to Cindy’s eyes. His parents reiterated their commitment to exposing North Korea’s human rights violations at a U.N. symposium May 3.
“We are trying to build a pathway that leads directly to Kim and his regime to force them to be answerable for their actions,” Fred said.
As Trump sat next to Kim Jong Un Tuesday during the summit in Singapore, a reporter asked the president for comment on Warmbier.
Trump, who was signing a joint document with the North Korean dictator at the moment, did not respond to the query.
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