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|Born||Otto Frederick Warmbier
December 12, 1994
|Died||June 19, 2017 (aged 22)
|Education||Wyoming High School(2013)|
|Alma mater||University of Virginia|
|Known for||Arrest and detainment in
Otto Frederick Warmbier (WARM-beer; December 12, 1994 – June 19, 2017) was an American college student who, while visiting North Korea as a tourist in January 2016, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel lobby. The United States made diplomatic efforts to seek Warmbier’s release.
Warmbier fell into a coma in prison and was released in June 2017, after nearly 18 months there. According to North Korean authorities, Warmbier’s coma was a result of botulism and a sleeping pill, but U.S. physicians cast doubt on that claim. Warmbier arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 13 and was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center for immediate evaluation and treatment. He was diagnosed with “severe neurological injury.” His father has said that he was “terrorized and brutalized.”
Otto Warmbier was born on December 12, 1994, one of three children of Fred and Cindy (née Garber) Warmbier, and was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a family of American-Jewish descent. His father, Fred Warmbier, owns his own business, a metal-finishing company, that was featured in Forbes for its rapid growth in 2015. In 2014, he contributed to the The New York Times‘ blog titled You’re the Boss about running a small business. Otto worked as an intern at the company from 2010 to 2013.
Otto Warmbier graduated from Wyoming High School in 2013 as the class salutatorian. At the time of his trip to North Korea, he was a junior at the University of Virginia, where he was studying for a double major degree in commerce and economics and did an exchange at the London School of Economics. Otto was a brother of the Theta Chi fraternity. He was active in the Hillel Jewish campus organization at the University of Virginia, and had visited Israel in a Birthright Israelheritage trip for young Jewish adults. He had two younger siblings.
Fred Warmbier stated that his son Otto was traveling in China at the end of 2015 when he saw a company offering trips to North Korea. He decided to go because he was adventurous, according to his father, who accused the tour operator of specifically targeting young Westerners with slogans like, “This is the trip your parents don’t want you to take!” Fred Warmbier said the China-based tour operator, Young Pioneer Tours, advertised the trip as safe for U.S. citizens. Danny Gratton, an adventurous British sales manager, met Warmbier in Beijing as the two boarded the tour flight to Pyongyang. The two struck up a friendship and were roommates on the trip. They stuck together from the time they got to Pyongyang until Warmbier was arrested.
Warmbier traveled to North Korea for a five-day New Year’s tour of the country organized by Young Pioneer Tours. Ten other U.S. citizens were in his tour group. During his stay at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, Warmbier allegedly tried to steal a propaganda sign from a staff-only floor of the hotel, supposedly as a souvenir.
The poster stated, “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il‘s patriotism!”. Harming such items with the name or image of a North Korean leader is considered a serious crime by the government.
A video purporting to show the theft was released by state-run Korean Central News Agency on March 18, 2016. In the 18-second low-resolution video, an unrecognizable figure removes the sign from the wall and places it on the floor, leaning it against the wall. This action is shown twice, followed by a higher-resolution picture of the sign on the wall. The face of the person removing the poster is not seen during the video clip.