US & World

American student freed by North Korea arrives home

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate who was imprisoned in North Korea in January 2016, is transferred by medical personnel from a transport aircraft to an ambulance at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport Tuesday night.
Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate who was imprisoned in North Korea in January 2016, is transferred by medical personnel from a transport aircraft to an ambulance at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport Tuesday night.
John Minchillo/AP

An American college student who has been in North Korean custody for a year-and-a-half arrived in Cincinnati Tuesday night on a medical evacuation flight.

Otto Warmbier, 22, is in a coma, his father Fred Warmbier told NPR News on Tuesday. An ambulance took Warmbier from the airport to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, was visiting the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, as part of a student tour group. He was arrested in January 2016 and accused of trying to steal a propaganda poster from an employee area of his hotel.

Following a brief trial broadcast by North Korean state television, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison and hard labor. In tears, he apologized for his actions.

State Department officials said Warmbier's release followed secret talks between U.S. and North Korean diplomats. Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, met with North Korean officials in Oslo in May and reached agreement for Swedish diplomats to visit Warmbier. Sweden represents U.S. diplomatic interests in North Korea.

Last week North Korean officials told Yun of Warmbier's medical condition. Yun and two physicians flew to Pyongyang and visited Warmbier Monday. Yun demanded his release and North Korea complied on Tuesday, according to the State Department.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that Warmbier had been freed. The State Department said President Trump had been consulted. White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday night that "bringing Otto home was a big priority for the president."

At least three American citizens are still being held in North Korea.

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