Who Is Otto Frederick Warmbier, The UVA Student Detained In North Korea? He's Been In Custody For Nearly Three Weeks


An American college student was arrested in North Korea for allegedly "perpetrating a hostile act" against the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK). On Friday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency announced the arrest on its website, claiming that the student entered the country "under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity," and he is now under investigation. In response to the troubling news, many Americans are wondering who the UVA student being detained in North Korea is.

The Korean Central News Agency reported that the American arrested was Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, and accused him of working from the "tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation." The travel company that organized Warmbier's trip, Young Pioneer Tours, confirmed on its website that a client by the name of Otto was detained in Pyongyang, the nation's capital. The Chinese-based tour company's website advertises trips to "destinations your mother would rather you stay away from," including Iran and Chernobyl in addition to North Korea.

The University of Virginia's student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, reported that Warmbier is a third-year student studying commerce, an Echols scholar, and a member of the Theta Chi Fraternity. According to the Associated Press, he was on the university's dean's list and went to high school in Wyoming City, outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Warmbier was arrested Jan. 2, so he's been in custody for 20 days now. It's unclear what North Korea based his arrest on or what the "investigation" entails, but Young Pioneer Tours and the University of Virginia said the 21-year-old's family has been informed of his arrest.

The U.S. State Department tweeted Friday that it's aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea, and said, "Welfare of US citizens is one of @StateDept's highest priorities." In a separate tweet, the agency said it works closely with the Swedish Embassy when Americans are reportedly detained in North Korea. Young Pioneer Tours stated in its statement that the company is working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. State Department, and the Swedish Embassy on the matter.

CNN reported that another American was detained by the country in October on espionage charges. Kim Dong Chul, 62, told CNN that he spied on behalf of "South Korean conservative elements" and was "taking photos of military secrets and 'scandalous' scenes." The State Department has not confirmed CNN's story, but North Korea accuses the United States and South Korea of sending spies across its borders fairly frequently.