Coroner: Otto Warmbier’s family objects to autopsy

FILE - In this March 16, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea. Warmbier, an American college student who was released by North Korea in a coma last week after almost a year and a half in captivity, died Monday, June 19, his family said. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

CINCINNATI (AP) /(WLWT)-The family of Otto Warmbier has objected to an autopsy.

The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office received the body of the 22-year-old college student, who died less than a week after his return to the U.S. after nearly a year and a half in North Korean detention, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Warmbier died Monday at UC Medical Center.

The coroner’s office said Tuesday in a news release that his body has been externally examined, but at request of the family, an autopsy will not be performed.

In addition to the exam, the coroner reviewed medical records and spoke with his physicians at UC Medical Center.

At this time, the coroner’s office said no conclusions about the cause or manner of his death have been drawn.

The office will continue to consult medical records, review imaging and conduct interviews.

Wambier’s parents have said Otto received “awful, torturous mistreatment” by North Korea. Doctors had described Warmbier’s condition as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and said he suffered a “severe neurological injury” of unknown cause

He arrived in Ohio on June 13 after being held for more than 17 months.

The University of Virginia student was accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting with a tour group and was convicted of subversion. He was put before North Korean officials and journalists for a televised “confession.”

Related: China tour agency says won’t take more U.S. tourists to North Korea

“I have made the worst mistake of my life!” he exclaimed, choking up as he begged to be allowed to reunite with his parents and two younger siblings.

He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His family said it was told he had been in a coma since soon after his sentencing.

Doctors said he suffered extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes opened and blinked but without any sign that he understood verbal commands or his surroundings.

Unresponsive wakefulness is a new medical term for persistent vegetative state. Patients in this condition who have survived a coma can open their eyes, but they do not respond to commands. People can live in a state of unresponsive wakefulness for many years with the chances of recovery depending on the extent of the brain injury.

North Korea said Warmbier went into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill. Doctors in Cincinnati said they found no active sign of botulism or evidence of beatings.

In a White House statement, President Donald Trump said, “A lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents.” He called North Korea a “brutal regime.”

Warmbier grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming. He was salutatorian of his 2013 class at a highly rated high school and was on the soccer team.

Wyoming City Schools released a statement saying it was “deeply saddened” by his death.

“The countless contributions he made to his school and community through his leadership, actions, and limitless enthusiasm will be felt far into the future,” the school district said.

Warmbier’s sophomore English teacher said he would be “dearly missed.”

Warmbier had planned to study in China in his third year of college and heard about Chinese travel companies offering trips to North Korea. He was leaving North Korea on Jan. 2, 2016, when he was detained at the airport.

The organizers of Warmbier’s trip say they will no longer take U.S. citizens to the country. Young Pioneer Tours said Tuesday on Facebook that his death shows that the risk American tourists face in visiting North Korea “has become too high.”

The U.S. Department of State warns against travel to North Korea. While nearly all Americans who have been there have left without incident, visitors can be seized and face lengthy incarceration for what might seem like minor infractions.

Jeffrey Fowle, also from Ohio, was detained in 2014 when he intentionally left a Bible in a nightclub. Fowle was freed after six months. He said he was kept isolated most of the time but not physically abused. He and others freed from North Korea have said they were coached and coerced into giving confessions.

Three Americans remain held in North Korea. The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.

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