There are currently a lot of parents around Australia preparing to say goodbye to their kids as they finish school and go on a trip. Maybe it will be to Schoolies. Maybe a gap-year. In the minds of all of them (OK, mostly the mothers) will be the face and the story of Otto Warmbier.
Mamamia published a story this week about the details of what happened to Otto Warmbier and they are chilling.
The 21-year-old American university student was on a study abroad program in China when he decided to take a quick tour with The Chinese-based tour company, Young Pioneer Tours who offered a five-day New Year’s tour of North Korea and advertised itself as safe for U.S. citizens. Warmbier, on a whim, decided to go.
It was advertised as, “The trip your parents don’t want you to take!”
There were 10 Americans in Warmbier’s tour group and on the second night, after a few drinks, Warmbier allegedly tried to steal a poster that was on the wall of their hotel. A poster. He was arrested a few days later at the airport as he was leaving the country with his tour group. He was officially charged with subversion and committing a "hostile act" against the state. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour.
What happened next is unclear but devastating and ultimately fatal. Mamamia reports:
It is believed that by March, 2016, the 21-year-old had fallen into a coma as a result of a severe neurological injury. We do not know the cause.
North Korean authorities did not disclose this medical information for another 15 months. They claimed he had fallen into a coma as a result of botulism, an illness caused by a bacteria carried in food or water.
The United States made several pleas for Warmbier's release, and eventually he was freed in June 2017 following 17 months in prison.
In June of this year, Warmbier was flown home to Cincinnati, Ohio and was immediately taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he was treated by Dr Daniel Kanter.
Dr Kanter described his condition as a state of "unresponsive wakefulness". It was confirmed that the university student had sustained extensive loss of tissue in all regions of the brain, and no tests revealed any evidence of botulism.
Listen to a snippet of Tell Me It's Going To Be OK, all about North Korea. (Post continues after audio...)
"This pattern of brain injury, however, is usually seen as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest where the blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time resulting in the death of brain tissue," Dr Kanter said.
Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, spoke to Fox in a television interview this week, and stated emphatically that North Korea had "systematically tortured" their son.
Upon his return, Fred and Cindy said he was "jerking violently," and making "inhuman sounds".
"Otto was systematically tortured and intentionally injured by Kim and his regime," Fred Warmbier said.
In a statement to the press the family said, "When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that."
On June the 19th, only days after returning home, Otto Warmbier died.
[You can read the full story about what happened to Otto Warmbier on Mamamia here]
If you've ever travelled overseas, you'll no doubt have memories of dumb, risky, reckless even maybe illegal things you did. There's something about being in another country that can make you feel like bad things won't happen. Or that the rules don't apply to you. Also, young people just do stupid things sometimes. We've all been there.