Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was finally released from North Korea after just over a year of being jailed. He has been in a coma for nearly a year, and was serving a 15 year sentence for "anti-state" activities — the theft of a propaganda poster. Before his trip, he was studying economics at the University of Virginia, and decided to study abroad at a university in Hong Kong. With the assistance of a Chinese company called Young Pioneer Tours, who brag about giving "budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from," Warmer stopped in North Korea along the way to China.
While Warmbier was staying at a Yanggakdo International Hotel, the North Korean government found video footage of someone trying to steal a sign from the corridors of the hotel, and pinned Warmbier as the only reasonable suspect. After three days in North Korea, the college student was taken away by official guards, and was ordered to carry out 15 years of hard labor for crimes against the state.
Even though he was released over 13 years early, considerable damage has been done. His father said that he slipped into a coma shortly after he was sentenced. He has extensive loss of brain tissue, and is currently in a state of unresponsive wakefulness. North Korea claimed that he had contracted botulism, and that he was taking sleeping pills as well. However, doctors don't know exactly what happened to cause his brain damage, and believe that Warmbier didn't show any signs of trauma or healing fractures. Rather, doctors believe that the brain injury is the result of cardiopulmonary arrest; he probably suffered brain damage from lack of blood flow to the brain.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed relief that Warmbier has been returned to the United States. However, he would not formally comment on the state of the college student's health, saying that it was a private matter for his family.
Luckily, Warmbier was able to return from quite a tumultuous study abroad experience. Warmbier's case demonstrates how easily a study abroad trip can turn into an utter disaster; it is important that college students take precaution before traveling to countries that are on poor terms with the United States and always think of the possible implications of their actions.
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