An American student imprisoned in North Korea was returned to his family blind, deaf and howling incoherently on a stretcher, his parents have said, in their first interview since his death in June.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier’s son Otto, 22, had travelled to North Korea as a tourist in January 2016. He was arrested and accused of removing a propaganda poster from his hotel, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The student fell ill shortly after he was sentenced, doctors believe. The North Koreans said he suffered from botulism and had a violent response to a drug given to help him.
He was denied visits by Swedish embassy officials, acting on behalf of the US, and it was not until June, when the extent of his illness became clear, that he was freed.
He returned to his hometown of Cincinnati on June 13, with his parents having been told shortly before he landed that he had suffered brain damage.
“What we pictured, because we’re optimists, is that Otto would be asleep and maybe in a medically induced coma and then when our doctors here would work with him and he’d get the best care and love that he would come out of it," said Mrs Warmbier.
Mr Warmbier continued: “We walked over to the plane, the engines are still humming, they had just landed.
“When we got halfway up the steps we heard this howling, involuntary, inhuman sound. We weren’t really certain what it was.”
Mrs Warmbier told Fox News on Tuesday that the howling sound so terrible she ran off the plane.
“Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly into space, jerking violently,” said Mr Warmbier.
“He was blind. He was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”
Warmbier was taken to hospital, but died six days later.
North Korea denies torturing the student, but his parents said Pyongyang’s actions were “inexcusable”.
“We see North Korea claiming to be a victim and the world is picking on them, and we’re here to tell you North Korea is not a victim,” said Mr Warmbier.
“They are terrorists. They kidnapped Otto, they tortured him, [and] they intentionally injured him."
He added: “It was astounding to Cindy and I to discover that North Korea is not listed as a state sponsor of terror. We owe it to the world to list it to North Korea as a state sponsor of terror.”
On Sunday the White House announced that North Korea was being added to its travel ban – a largely symbolic move, given that almost no North Koreans travel to the US. Diplomats are exempt from the ruling.
President Donald Trump, who has previously talked about Warmbier's treatment in stark terms, and criticised the Obama administration for not doing more to help, tweeted about the interview.
“Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea,” he said.