Tensions with North Korea have continued to escalate in recent months, primarily due to Kim Jong un’s regime continuing to develop and test nuclear weapon and ballistic missile technology in the face of repeated UN resolutions and sanctions.  However, the effect of one American student’s death after being released from North Korean custody can’t be understated, as it, in many ways, set the tone for escalating assertions levied at Kim’s regime from the United States of America.  What exactly happened to the 22-year-old, however, remains shrouded in mystery.

Otto Warmbier, an American that was arrested during a brief visit to North Korea in early 2016 for reportedly stealing a propaganda poster from the hallway of his hotel, was returned to the United States, in June of this year.  The student, who had left in good health, returned in a coma, and according to his parents, in a dismal physical state.

“We weren’t prepared for this at all,” said Cindy Warmbier, Otto’s mother. “No one had any idea, going in there, what we were going to see.”

Halfway up the stairs, we hear this loud, guttural, howling, inhuman sound. We don’t know what it is,” Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, said. “He’s strapped to the stretcher, and he’s moving around and jerking violently, making these howling, inhuman sounds.”

According to the parents, their son’s hands and legs were “totally deformed,” and medical examinations made prior to his death classified his condition as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness,” apparently caused by brain damage that had occurred more than a year before.

North Korea’s official statement regarding the student’s condition, who had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for his crime, indicated that he was suffering from botulism and the effects of ingesting of a sleeping pill, dismissing any claims of torture.

Warmbier’s parents, however, disagreed, claiming that “His bottom teeth look like they had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged them.”

The official report of the coroner that examined Warmbier’s body appears not to support either the parents or North Korea’s statements regarding his condition.  Warmbier’s arms and legs did exhibit signs of hyperextension, which could arguably be a sign of torture, or potentially a sign that he lacked muscular control of his limbs during what was believed to be a 12 month waking coma. Further, the medical examiner indicated that there were no signs of trauma in Warmbier’s mouth, including his teeth and jaw.