People in the Ohio hometown of a college student released by North Korea said they were pleased he was back and expressed hopes Wednesday for his recovery as he remained hospitalized in a coma.
Otto Warmbier, 22, landed in Cincinnati late Tuesday night and was taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. A hospital spokeswoman didn’t provide an update on his condition, but she said his parents plan a Thursday morning news conference.
The public appearance will be at Wyoming High School, one of Ohio’s top rated schools. The University of Virginia student graduated from there in 2013 as class salutatorian and had played soccer.
Residents of the northern Cincinnati suburb tied blue-and-white ribbons, the school colors, to trees near the family home. Joy at his release was mixed with concern after his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said they were told he had been in the coma for over a year.
City councilwoman Jenni McCauley said the tight-knit community was “thrilled” he was back.
“Even though they’re saddened by his condition, they’re just glad for the family that he is home,” McCauley said. “For any parent, this is their worst nightmare. … We’re hoping that he will be OK.”
She called him “a fabulous young man” who was known as intelligent, personable and well-liked in school and in the community.
Ellie Boettcher, a 14-year-old rising freshman at Wyoming High, where Warmbier’s sister will be a sophomore, said students were elated.
“We’re just really glad that he’s able to come back,” Boettcher said. “Nothing really bad ever happens in Wyoming. It’s kind of like a bubble. So it’s really tragic. But luckily he is back, and I believe he will make a full recovery.”
Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor in North Korea for alleged anti-state acts after he tearfully confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting. He was released Tuesday, more than 17 months after being detained.
Such detentions in the totalitarian nation have added to tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Three Americans remain in custody.
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.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that his department was continuing “to have discussions” with North Korea about the release of the other three imprisoned American citizens.