The First Video Of Otto Warmbier Returning Home Is Heartbreaking
On Tuesday, almost 17 months after he was first arrested, 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier — who has reportedly been in a coma for more than a year, according to his parents — was released from a North Korean prison and reunited with his family in Ohio. The first video of Warmbier's return to the U.S. has since come out, showing him being carried out of an aircraft in Cincinnati by two men.
The video, which TIME obtained from Cincinnati station WCPO, show Warmbier being placed in an ambulance, after which he was transported to a local hospital to receive treatment. Warmbier appeared to have a shaved head and a tube in his nose.
In January 2016, Otto Warmbier was set to fly out from North Korea's Pyongyang International Airport after a five-day organized tour of the country. Instead, the University of Virginia undergraduate student was arrested for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster from the hotel where his tour group was staying, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Earlier this month, North Korean officials told Joseph Yun — the State Department's special envoy to North Korea — that Warmbier had allegedly contracted botulism not long after his trial last March. He was reportedly given a sleeping pill, but never woke up after that.
Upon learning about Warmbier's condition, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Yun to take a delegation to North Korea. This delegation arrived there on Monday, and Warmbier was medically evacuated the following day on "humanitarian grounds."
Now that Warmbier has returned, his parents told Fox News that they are "adjusting to a different reality." In an interview slated to air on Thursday evening, Warmbier's father Fred told anchor Tucker Carlson that his son is "not in great shape." Nevertheless, Fred said during an emotional press conference on Thursday that he is "proud" of his son.
"What did I say to my son?" Fred said. "I knelt down by his side and I hugged him, and I told him I missed him and I was so glad that he made it home."
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, was one of the first officials to get involved in Warmbier's case. He told TIME that Warmbier's return to the U.S. does not exempt North Korea from facing consequences going forward. After a Pyongyang diplomat told ABC News last summer that U.S. citizens detained in North Korea would be subjected to wartime laws, Richardson suggested that the Geneva Conventions might be at stake.
"The North Koreans have a lot of explaining to do — they may have violated the Geneva Convention," Richardson told TIME. "It depends on Otto’s condition and what the North Koreans say about what happened, but if Otto is in a coma or damaged, there will be pressure in the Trump administration to act."