The parents of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was released from North Korean custody in a vegetative state, accused North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of "unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity" Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump refused to blame Kim for the death of their son.
"Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto," they said in a statement. "No excuses or lavish praise can change that." Warmbier died just days after he was returned to his family in June 2017.
Trump said Thursday he does not believe Kim knew about the brutal mistreatment Otto Warmbier suffered during his imprisonment in the isolated regime.
The 22-year-old student was visiting North Korea with a tour group when he was arrested in January 2016. Two months later, he was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
He was sent home to the United States in June 2017, arriving in a vegetative state, and he died six days later when his parents decided to remove his feeding tube. North Korea blamed his brain damage on botulism, but a U.S. coroner found no evidence of that.
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During a question-and-answer session with reporters Thursday in Hanoi, Trump was asked if he had confronted Kim about Warmbier. Trump said he "believed something bad happened to" Warmbier, but said he doesn't think "the top [North Korean] leadership knew about it."
"I don't believe that he would have allowed that to happen," the U.S. president said, referring to Kim Jong Un. "Just wasn't to his advantage to have allowed that to happen. Those prisons are rough — they're rough places, and bad things happen."
Trump said Kim told him he felt "very badly about it."
Later Friday Trump tweeted that he had been misinterpreted, that “Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death.”
However, he did not mention Kim in his tweet.
....for Otto’s mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2019
A U.S. federal court judge last November ordered Pyongyang to pay more than $500 million to the Warmbier family. His parents filed a lawsuit against the reclusive regime, asserting their son had been intentionally beaten. It is unlikely North Korea will pay the judgment since there is no mechanism to force it to do so.