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Father of Freed Student Says Son 'Brutalized' by North Korea Captors

  • Associated Press

American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016. North Korea's highest court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years in prison after he allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner.

The father of an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea and was returned to his home state of Ohio in a coma says the family is “adjusting to a different reality.”

Fred Warmbier told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Wednesday that his son, Otto, was “terrorized and brutalized” during his 17-month detention and has been in a coma for more than a year.

“The day after he was sentenced, he went into a coma,” the father said in an interview scheduled to air Thursday night. He said he and his wife, Cindy, only learned of their son’s condition last week.

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was medically evacuated from North Korea and flown to Cincinnati late Tuesday. He was then taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Visitors and medical personnel enter a transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier, before he is transferred to an ambulance at Lunken regional airport, June 13, 2017, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Visitors and medical personnel enter a transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier, before he is transferred to an ambulance at Lunken regional airport, June 13, 2017, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Fred Warmbier said he does not know exactly what happened to his son during his detention. He and his wife, Cindy, planned a Thursday news conference.

The public appearance will be at Wyoming High School, one of Ohio's top-rated schools. Warmbier graduated from there in 2013 as class salutatorian and had played soccer.

Residents of the northern Cincinnati suburb tied blue-and-white ribbons, the school colors, to trees near the family home. Joy at his release was mixed with concern after his parents said they were told he had been in the coma for over a year.

Alison Lebrun, center background, helps tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons near the family home of Otto Warmbier, in the Wyoming suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, June 13, 2017.
Alison Lebrun, center background, helps tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons near the family home of Otto Warmbier, in the Wyoming suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, June 13, 2017.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said there should be an investigation into what happened to Warmbier leading to this "tragic situation.''

Richardson, a Democrat, credited the Department of State with securing Warmbier's return from North Korea without any preconditions but said a forceful response from the U.S. government would be required "if its determined that there was a cover-up and Otto's condition was not disclosed and he didn't get proper treatment.''

City councilwoman Jenni McCauley said the tight-knit community was "thrilled'' to have Warmbier back.

"Even though they're saddened by his condition, they're just glad for the family that he is home,'' McCauley said. "For any parent, this is their worst nightmare. ... We're hoping that he will be OK.''

She called him "a fabulous young man'' who was known as intelligent, personable and well-liked in school and in the community.

Ellie Boettcher, a 14-year-old rising freshman at Wyoming High, where Warmbier's sister will be a sophomore, said students were elated.

"We're just really glad that he's able to come back,'' Boettcher said. "Nothing really bad ever happens in Wyoming. It's kind of like a bubble. So it's really tragic. But luckily he is back, and I believe he will make a full recovery.''

Local residents hold signs of support to welcome home Otto Warmbier at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 13, 2017.
Local residents hold signs of support to welcome home Otto Warmbier at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 13, 2017.

Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor in North Korea. He had tearfully confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting. He was released Tuesday, more than 17 months after being detained.

Such detentions in the totalitarian nation have added to tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Three Americans remain in custody.

The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that his department was continuing "to have discussions'' with North Korea about the release of the other three imprisoned American citizens.

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