WYOMING, OHIO/WASHINGTON – The father of an American college student released by North Korea and now hospitalized in a coma says his son was “brutalized” by his captors.
He “is not in great shape right now,” said Fred Warmbier about his son, Otto, speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson from his Ohio home Wednesday.
“Otto has been terrorized and brutalized for 18 months by a pariah regime in North Korea,” the father said in an interview scheduled to air Thursday night.
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.
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 have 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.
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.”
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.
A top U.S. State Department official met with the three when he traveled to Pyongyang this week, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun, who went on a secret mission to North Korea to bring back Warmbier, also met with the three men on Monday and confirmed they were in reasonably good health, the report said, citing two people with knowledge of the meeting.
The Swedish ambassador to North Korea accompanied Yun on the visit. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents U.S. interests because Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations.
Details, such as where the three are being held, or under what conditions, remain unknown, according to the report.
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