WYOMING, Ohio — After more than a year detained in North Korea, Otto Warmbier returned to the United States in a coma last week, only to die six days after his arrival.
His Ohio hometown will gather Thursday to say goodbye to the college student whose trip to the reclusive nation turned into a 17-month detention nightmare.
During his funeral at his Wyoming High School alma mater, loved ones will pay tribute to a son, a brother, a neighbor and a friend.
“It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds,” his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement.
“But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person. You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio, and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.”
Warmbier’s family objected to an autopsy, leaving his official cause of death a mystery.
The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office in Ohio examined the 22-year-old’s body after his death Monday, and honored his family’s wish not to have an autopsy. It only conducted an external examination.
The coroner’s office reviewed medical records from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and the air ambulance service that helped bring Warmbier from Pyongyang to Cincinnati after 17 months.
“No conclusions about the cause and manner of Mr. Warmbier’s death have been drawn at this time as there are additional medical records and imaging to review and people to interview,” the coroner’s office statement said.
Tour and arrest
Warmbier visited North Korea in January 2016 on a sightseeing tour. He was arrested for allegedly stealing a political sign from a restricted area and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
US President Donald Trump’s administration worked to secure his return. He died less than a week after returning from North Korea. He could not speak or move voluntarily, and his doctors said he suffered extensive brain damage.
His treating physicians said he suffered from unresponsive wakefulness, a condition also known as persistent vegetative state. In a news conference before Warmbier’s death, they said they could not speculate on the cause of his condition. But they found no evidence that he had contracted botulism, casting doubt on North Korea’s claim that he fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill.
“This pattern of brain injury is usually seen as result of cardiopulmonary arrest where blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time, resulting in the death of brain tissue,” Dr. Daniel Kanter said last week.