This is a still taken from a video that Otto Warmbier’s parents released last week showing their son with travelers from his tour group in North Korea a few days before he was arrested at the Pyongyang airport on Jan 2, 2016. (Courtesy: The Warmbier Family)
WASHINGTON – The tour operators who organized Otto Warmbier’s fateful trip to North Korea said Tuesday that they were “reeling with shock over his death” and that they consequently will no longer take U.S. citizens to the country.
Later, President Donald Trump said “it’s a disgrace what happened to Otto.”
Young Pioneer Tours said on its Facebook page Tuesday morning that Warmbier’s death shows that the risk of Americans visiting North Korea “has become too high.”
“The way his detention was handled was appalling and a tragedy like this must never be repeated.
“Despite constant requests we were denied any opportunity to meet him or anyone in contact with him in Pyongyang, only receiving assurances that he was fine.”
Warmbier, 22, died Monday afternoon at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was taken upon his return to the U.S. Wambier’s parents did not specify a cause of death, but cited “awful, torturous mistreatment” by North Korea.
The University of Virginia student was released from North Korea in a comatose state last Tuesday after being held 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel. In March 2016 he had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, two months after being arrested at the Pyongyang airport shortly before his planned departure. He never regained consciousness.
The North Korean government said Warmbier contracted botulism shortly after his imprisonment and became comatose after taking a sleeping pill. But U.S. doctors said they found no trace of botulism poisoning. They described Warmbier’s condition as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and said he suffered some type of “severe neurological injury.”
The Hamilton County coroner’s office in Ohio said Tuesday morning that they are investigating Warmbier’s death.
Trump said “it’s a total disgrace what happened to Otto. It should never, ever be allowed to happen. And frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different. He should have been home that same day,” told reporters during an appearance with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko at the White House Tuesday afternoon.
He said he had spoken with the Warmbier family.
“His family is incredible … but he should have been brought home a long time ago.”
Fred Warmbier said last week that Trump had called the family and that he appreciated the call. It is not clear if Trump was referring to that call or if he has spoken with the Warmbiers since their son died.
Three other Americans are imprisoned in North Korea.
Young Pioneer Tours specializes in trips to North Korea and was founded by British expatriate Gareth Johnson, 36. Based in Xi’an, China, the “budget adventure travel” company offers tours to “destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from” – including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Ukraine.
“North Korea is probably one of the safest places on earth to visit …,” the company says on its website. “We have never felt suspicious or threatened at any time.”
This article is republished with permission from Talk Media News.
Regina Holmes has more than two decades of experience as a journalist –editing and reporting for news dailies including the Miami Herald, Newsday and the Baltimore Examiner.