Coroner examining death of U.S. student released by North Korea

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 20, 2017 11:18 AM

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) - Preliminary findings from the autopsy of a University of Virginia student who was held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months will be released on Tuesday or Wednesday, the office of the Ohio coroner performing the examination 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 U.S. 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, an Ohio native, was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 while visiting as a tourist. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor 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 custody meant "no other outcome was possible."

Relatives have said U.S. envoys told them that North Korean officials said Warmbier contracted botulism after his trial and became comatose after taking a sleeping pill. 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."

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he had spoken with Warmbier's family and praised them as "incredible."

"It's a total disgrace what happened to Otto," Trump told reporters in the White House, where he was meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Proshenko. "And frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated demands that North Korea release three other U.S. 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 last year in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The North Korean government has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn)