US & Canada

Otto Warmbier: No post-mortem for US student held by N Korea

Otto Warmbier at his trial, March 2016 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Warmbier (left) was jailed for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel

The family of a US student who died shortly after being freed from North Korea have declined a post-mortem examination, according to a US coroner.

Otto Warmbier died on Monday near his family home in Ohio after more than 15 months in North Korean captivity.

The Hamilton County coroner said only an external exam was performed on Mr Warmbier, who arrived home in a coma.

North Korea claims his coma was due to botulism and a sleeping pill, but the Warmbier family and doctors disagree.

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How did Otto Warmbier end up in a coma?

Mr Warmbier, 22, was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in March 2016 after being tried for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel.

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Media caption'Punish N Korea for Otto Warmbier death'

The coroner's office in Cincinnati, Ohio, said in a statement: "No conclusions about the cause and manner of Mr Warmbier's death have been drawn at this time as there are additional medical records and imaging to review and people to interview.

"Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Mr Warmbier at this time of their tragic loss."

Timeline of events

Image copyright AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS
  • 30 Dec 2015 - Mr Warmbier travels from Beijing to Pyongyang with a tour group
  • 2 Jan 2016 - He is arrested at Pyongyang International Airport as he tries to leave the country. Later that month, North Korea announces it is holding Mr Warmbier for a "hostile act"
  • 16 March 2016 - Mr Warmbier goes on trial in Pyongyang where he confesses to stealing a propaganda poster, and is sentenced to 15 years of hard labour. North Korea says he slipped into a coma shortly after his trial
  • Early June 2017 - US officials and Mr Warmbier's parents are told about his condition
  • 13 June 2017 - He is released from North Korea and medically evacuated to the US. Doctors say he has suffered a severe brain injury
  • 19 June 2017 - Mr Warmbier dies

Doctors at the Cincinnati Medical Center, where Mr Warmbier was treated following his return to the US on 13 June, determined he suffered from "unresponsive wakefulness", also known as persistent vegetative state, due to "severe neurological injury".

But it remains unclear exactly what happened to the student while in North Korea detention. His family and doctors dispute North Korea's version of events.

A funeral is to take place on Thursday morning at a high school in Wyoming, Ohio, that Mr Warmbier attended before enrolling at the University of Virginia.

"All those that wish to join his family in celebrating his life are cordially invited," the announcement states.

President Donald Trump said on Monday that a "lot of bad things happened" to Mr Warmbier at the hands of the "brutal regime".

On Tuesday he tweeted that the US once again condemned North Korea "as we mourn its latest victim".

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Media captionDonald Trump says the US will 'handle' North Korea

He added: "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi [Jinping] and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"

China is North Korea's closest ally, and Mr Trump has repeatedly called on Beijing to influence Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programme.

North Korea has ramped up its missile tests in recent months despite international sanctions, aggravating tensions in the region and with the US.

Mr Trump met Mr Xi in person in April where they discussed the North Korea issue, and later praised Mr Xi for his handling of the situation.