University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier on Tuesday was medically evacuated from North Korea, where he had been held in the government’s custody since January 2016. He was due to arrive in Cincinnati, near his Ohio home, late Tuesday evening.
UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said, “While the entire University of Virginia community is relieved to learn of Otto’s release from North Korea, we are deeply concerned and saddened to learn from his family that he is in a coma.
“The last 17 months have been an extremely difficult and emotionally trying time for the Warmbier family. The UVA family will continue to keep the Warmbiers in our thoughts and prayers as Otto returns to the United States and his home where he will receive the care and support of those who love him.”
Warmbier, then a third-year student, was on a tour at the time of his arrest. North Korean officials alleged that on his last night in Pyongyang, he attempted to remove a sign from the wall of his hotel.
After a one-day trial in March 2016, he was convicted of “hostile acts against the state” and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
The UVA student body is grateful and relieved to receive news of Otto's return. We look forward to supporting him, his friends, and family.— UVA Student Council (@UVaStudCo) June 13, 2017
While he remained in North Korean custody, his friends at the University expressed their deep concern for his well-being. On May 21, the day he would have graduated, student leaders organized a tribute in his honor and distributed “Free Otto” stickers at Final Exercises.
Both Sullivan and Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, where Warmbier is enrolled, included Warmbier in their remarks to the graduates.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Warmbier had been in a coma since sometime after his trial and that his release came after consultations between North Korean officials and Joseph Yun, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea.
Yun and a medical team traveled to Pyongyang on Monday, where they “insisted on Warmbier’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” the Post reported, citing official sources, “and the North Koreans agreed.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced Warmbier’s release Tuesday morning.