A British man who roomed with the ill-fated American student held captive in North Korea for over a year and now in a coma said he doubts the series of events that led to the young man’s arrest.
Danny Gratton, in his first interview since Otto Warmbier’s January 2016 arrest, recounted to the Washington Post the chilling moments when the University of Virginia student was taken away.
It was Jan. 2, 2016, at Pyongyang International Airport as their tour group prepared to leave for Beijing.
Guards appeared moments after an agent inspected their passports.
Otto Warmbier has severe brain damage after North Korea captivity
“No words were spoken. Two guards just come over and simply tapped Otto on the shoulder and led him away,” he told the newspaper. “I just said kind of quite nervously, ‘Well, that’s the last we’ll see of you.’ There’s a great irony in those words.”
Warmbier was calm as the guards brought him into a private area.
“That was it. That was the last physical time I saw Otto, ever. I was also the only person to see Otto taken away,” he told the newspaper. “Otto didn’t resist. He didn’t look scared. He sort of half-smiled.”
Within two months, however, he would be crying in front of cameras after a North Korean show trial sentenced him to 15 years hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from a secluded part of his hotel.
UVA student Otto Warmbier released from North Korea in coma
He was returned to the U.S. this week after 17 months in captivity, but a significant portion of his brain is damaged after falling into a mysterious coma.
Gratton said he spent a decent amount of time with the Cincinnati native during their four-day trip and it was doubtable he’d commit such an act.
“I’ve got nothing from my experiences with him that would suggest he would do something like that,” he told the Washington Post. “At no stage did I ever think he was anything but a very, very polite kid.”
The tour group departed Pyongyang without Warmbier. Its guide phoned a colleague back in Pyongyang who was with Warmbier back.
He told the tour guide he had a terrible headache and wasn’t well enough to travel, the Washington Post reported.
Gratton told the newspaper that Warmbier didn’t seem sick — suggesting it might’ve been a ruse by the North Koreans.
The U.S. government never contacted him, said Gratton, a sales manager in his mid-40s who kept in touch with Warmbier’s family.
They, too, stayed silent while their son was detained. But his father, Fred Warmbier, gave a full-throated dressing down of the hermetic nation Thursday once his son was home.
North Korea has said the now-22-year-old fell into a coma after given a sleeping pill and contracting botulism. His father rebuked that, saying the paranoid nation “kept his condition a secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long.”
He’s now being kept at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where doctors said he’s stuck in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.”
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