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Coroner examining death of 22-year-old US student released by North Korea

Otto Warmbier died at the age of 22 in a Cincinnati hospital on Monday, just days after the North Korean government sent him home in a coma and suffering from extensive brain damage, according to the US doctors who treated him.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2017 21:35 IST
Otto Frederick Warmbier (centre), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016.
Otto Frederick Warmbier (centre), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016.(Reuters File Photo)

The Ohio coroner examining the death of a University of Virginia student who was held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months expects to share preliminary findings of the autopsy on Tuesday or Wednesday, her office said.

Otto Warmbier died at the age of 22 in a Cincinnati hospital on Monday, just days after the North Korean government sent him home in a coma and suffering from extensive brain damage, according to the US doctors who treated him.

His body was transferred to the Hamilton County Coroner’s office later that day, Don Jasper, its chief investigator, said on Tuesday. The coroner, Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, is expecting to release initial results from her examination later on Tuesday or on Wednesday, Jasper said.

Warmbier, who was born in Ohio, was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 while visiting as a tourist. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel in Pyongyang, the nation’s state media said.

His family did not give a cause of his death but said in a statement on Monday that the “awful torturous mistreatment” Warmbier endured while in North Korean custody meant “no other outcome was possible.”

Relatives have said US envoys told them that North Korean officials said Warmbier contracted botulism after his trial and became comatose after taking a sleeping pill, according to the Washington Post. Fred Warmbier, the student’s father, has said he does not believe this account.

North Korea said they released Warmbier last week on “humanitarian grounds.”

US President Donald Trump offered condolences to the Warmbier family on Monday and denounced “the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated demands that North Korea release three other US citizens it holds in detention: missionary Kim Dong Chul and academics Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song.

The government of China, North Korea’s main ally, said Warmbier’s death was a tragedy.

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been heightened by dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. The North Korean government has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland.