Who is Otto Warmbier, the college student held prisoner in North Korea

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Otto Warmbier
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REUTERS/Kyodo

After serving a year of a 15-year prison sentence for stealing a poster from a hotel in North Korea, American detainee Otto Warmbier was released and returned to his family in the US.

Warmbier has reportedly been in a coma for a year and has been in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness,” his doctors said.

For the time being, it is unclear what truly happened during the year Warmbier spent in North Korea – despite North Korea’s account that Warmbier contracted botulism and went into a coma after taking a pill to help him sleep.

Here is what we know about the 22-year-old who spent more than a year imprisoned in North Korea:


During a study-abroad trip to Hong Kong, Otto Warmbier decided to embark on a five-day tour of North Korea on January 2016. He was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster after a one-day trial in court.


Raised in Ohio, Warmbier graduated from high school in 2013 as class salutatorian. He eventually enrolled at the University of Virginia, studying economics and global sustainability.

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YouTube Screenshot (WCPO.com)

Source: Cincinnati.com


At the University of Virginia, Warmbier was named an Echols Scholar, an honor awarded to the top 7% of first-year students, according to his LinkedIn page. He also served as alumni chair for the Theta Chi fraternity.

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Kyodo/Reuters

Source: USA Today


After being arrested and convicted, Warmbier was sentenced 15 years of hard labor. In an emotional statement, he said that he was subjected to the country’s “fair and square legal procedures.” It has yet to be determined if he was coerced by North Korean authorities or if he had delivered a genuine statement.

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Otto Warmbier appears before a North Korean trial.
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YouTube Screenshot (stimmiekoreas)

Source: USA Today


According to reports, Warmbier had been in a coma for over a year and needs “proper medical care.” A senior US official also said that the government received reports that Warmbier had been repeatedly beaten during his imprisonment.

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Warmbier is taken to North Korea’s top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Kyodo

Source: New York Times


Warmbier’s family said they received a letter dated March 2, 2016 — the only correspondence with their son during his 18-month imprisonment. “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime,” said parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement.

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Fred Warmbier holds a press conference wearing the jacket his son stood trial in in North Korea.
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CNN

Source: USA Today, New York Times


After an emergency US-North Korea meeting in New York, plans for Warmbier’s return were finalized. President Donald Trump delegated a State Department envoy and medical personnel to bring Warmbier home.

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People, believed to be family members, embrace next to the medical transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier before he was transferred to an awaiting ambulance at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 13, 2017.
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REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Source: New York Times


North Korean officials maintain they had footage of Warmbier stealing a propaganda poster, and called his act “hostile.” Officials also claim that Warmbier had acted under the direction of a church in Ohio — which they allege operates under the ruse of a secret university organization and the CIA.

Source: CNN


Warmbier remains in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness,” which most likely means he can perform certain functioning reflexes like opening his eyes; however, is unable to respond to commands. Doctors have refused to speculate on his prognosis.