Otto Warmbier, Cincinnati native held by North Korea, comes home in a coma

Otto Warmbier, Cincinnati native held by North Korea, comes home in a coma
American student Otto Warmbier speaks as Warmbier is presented to reporters Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
American student Otto Warmbier speaks as Warmbier is presented to reporters Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

FOX19 - Cincinnati native Otto Warmbier is back home after North Korea detained him more than a year before releasing him Tuesday.

The 22-year-old college student was flown into Lunken Airport on Cincinnati's east side about 10:30 p.m.

He was transported in an ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he is undergoing treatment.

His family is scheduled to hold a press conference at Wyoming High School Thursday.

Warmbier was sentenced to a labor camp in March 2016 for "hostile acts" against the totalitarian government after he confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner.

It remains unclear, however, if his confession was truthful or forced by state officials.

Until recently, most updates and footage of Warmbier came from North Korea, a government known to exaggerate and lie.

Last year, he testified before North Korea's highest court that he wished the U.S. never "manipulated" him to commit crimes against foreign countries.

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"I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country, I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries," Warmbier said during his trial in North Korea.

"I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!"

His parents told the Washington Post he has been in a coma for a year contracting botulism, a deadly nerve toxin.

It is unclear how he got sick, or if he actually is sick — he was reportedly severely beaten by North Korean officials.

There were concerns Warmbier was killed as a result of beatings while in custody, according to the New York Times.

But reports say he was seen by an American or Swedish medical team on Monday in Pyongyang. Sweden does diplomatic work in North Korea on the behalf of the U.S.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made no mention of Warmbier's condition when it was announced he was coming home.

According to Warmbier's parents, he was allegedly given a sleeping pill shortly after his trial in March 2016, which put him into a coma.

It is unknown why North Korea released him, but the U.S. State Department demanded his release after learning of his medical condition.

Warmbier's parents told the Post they and American officials learned of their son's condition last week.

"Otto's detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling," Sen. Rob Portman said in a written statement Tuesday.

"For North Korea to imprison Otto with no notification or consular access for more than a year is the utmost example of its complete failure to recognize human rights and dignity."

Warmbier arrived in Pyongyang in December 2015 as part of a tour group.

North Korea allows a small number of tourists into the country every year through approved Chinese travel agencies. Tourists are always constantly monitored and are given a guided propaganda tour by government officials.

Washington and Pyongyang have a very strained relationship. North Korea still considers itself in an active war against the United States and is moving quickly towards a nuclear weapon it threatens to use in combat.

The fate of at least three other U.S. citizens detained in North Korea remains unknown.

"My first priority will be continuing to support Otto, his parents and family, whose strength and love of family inspire me every time I speak with them," Sen. Sherrod Brown Brown said in a prepared statement.

"North Korea's despicable actions in detaining and holding Otto were unacceptable and must be condemned. We must continue working to free all Americans who are being held by North Korea."

Numerous Americans have been detained in the country over the years.

Some detainees have been freed after visits by high-profile officials such as President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Warmbier's releases comes amid former pro-basketball star Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea on Tuesday.

The purpose of his visit was unclear, but state department officials say he was not on an official mission.

His visit was sponsored by Potcoin, a cryptocurrency that processes payments from marijuana dispensaries.

Kim Jong-un, the country's supreme leader, is a big NBA fan and hosted visits from American basketball players several times.

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