The extent of Otto Warmbier’s injuries have been confirmed by the Hamilton County coroner’s office in Ohio.
The American college student returned to his home country in a vegetative state. A full autopsy was not carried out, according to his family’s wishes.
However, coroners were able to perform both a ‘virtual autopsy’ and an external examination earlier this month.
— 20/20 (@ABC2020) June 24, 2017
After these examinations, it is now understood he suffered severe brain damage as a result of disrupted blood flow and oxygen deprivation.
The official medical diagnosis has been recorded as anoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, an injury where blood flow is reduced throughout the body.
However, it is not understood how Otto’s blood circualation had been interupted.
Speaking with The New York Times, county coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco spoke of how he could only theorize how Otto received his injuries:
All we can do is theorize, and we hate to theorize without science backing us up,
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The University of Virginia undergraduate was arrested in North Korea for attempting to steal a propaganda poster and was sentenced to fifteen years hard labour.
However, he was flown back to the US in June 2017, where it became clear he had suffered grave injuries. He passed away just six days after his return.
North Korea has claimed Otto’s illness and death were due to sleeping pills and botulism which caused him to fall into a coma. However, this reason has been disputed by medical experts.
Speaking to Fox News, Otto’s father Fred Warmbier expressed the belief his son had been ‘tortured’, and discussed the terrible injuries Otto had suffered:
Otto was on the stretcher and he was jerking violently, making these inhuman sounds. Cindy and Greta ran off the plane. Austin and I walked over to Otto.
Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly, he was staring into space jerking violently, he was blind, he was deaf.
As we looked at him, it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and re-arranged his bottom teeth.
Within two days of Otto being home his fever spiked to 104 degrees, he had a large scar on his right foot.
North Korea is not a victim, they purposely and intentionally injured Otto.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 28, 2017
The medical examination did not detect signs of torture, however this possibility has not been entirely ruled out.
According to Dr Sammarco, the marks of torture are not always visible:
There are a lot of horrible things you can do to a human body that don’t leave external signs behind.
One of the frustrating things is the lack of information about what happened to him in North Korea.
— David Sugarman (@SugarmanSpeaks) September 26, 2017
The North Korean Foreign Ministry denies that Otto was tortured, and has even accused the US of exploiting Otto’s death as part of a ‘conspiracy campaign’.
The fact the US is employing a dead person for the conspiracy campaign to fuel the international atmosphere of putting pressure on [North Korea] shows how vile and inveterate the hostility of the US policy-makers towards [North Korea] is.
Our thoughts are with Otto’s friends and family during this difficult time.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.