Tillerson said the State Department had secured Warmbier’s release per a decision from President Trump, and that the student was on his way home via a U.S. military base in Sapporo, Japan, to be reunited with his family in Cincinnati. In March 2016, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in North Korea for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda sign while on a New Year’s Eve tour.
However, new details from the Washington Post reveal that Warmbier’s parents were told the 22-year-old was being medically evacuated while in a coma, which he’s reportedly been in for more than a year. The Warmbiers were told that shortly after his trial that their son contracted botulism. He was given a sleeping pill, but never woke up, and has been in a coma the entire first year of his sentence.
“Our son is coming home,” Fred Warmbier told the Post. “At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.”
An anonymous official told the Post that Tillerson called Trump at 8:35am local time to tell him Warmbier was en route to the U.S. The official said Trump’s last order to Tillerson was, “Take care of Otto.”
Warmbier had been arrested while visiting North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours. On the final night of his tour, Warmbier allegedly went to a staff-only floor of his hotel and took down a large propaganda sign praising the regime.
He was last seen during his hour-long trial last March for “hostile acts against the state,” and hasn’t been in the public eye since. Swedish diplomats representing U.S. interests were denied access to him. The Post reports that there’s no way to determine if North Korea’s explanation of events are true, nor is it clear how the country’s doctors have cared for Warmbier for more than a year in his state.
Tillerson said the State Department is still discussing the release of two other Americans detained in North Korea.