Mr. Warmbier was seized from a tour group while visiting North Korea in January 2016, convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, a punishment that the United States and much of the world called egregious.
His parents were never able to speak with him and learned that he would be returned home for medical reasons only shortly before it had been arranged. He died within a week of his homecoming.
His 17-month-long incarceration added an emotional undercurrent to the hostile relationship between North Korea and the United States and played a role in the Trump administration’s decision to bar Americans from visiting the country as of Sept. 1. President Trump also mentioned Mr. Warmbier in his United Nations General Assembly speech last week in which he warned that North Korea risked destruction.
Mr. Warmbier’s parents said that they had been warned in the hours before his arrival that their son was in a coma and had suffered brain damage, but that they and their two other children were unprepared for what they saw when they boarded the aircraft that had carried him home on June 13.
“Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly into space jerking violently,” the father said. “He was blind, he was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him, it looked as if somebody had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”
He also had a large scar on his right foot, Mr. Warmbier said, and within a few days of his arrival had developed a 104-degree fever.
“They destroyed him,” Cindy Warmbier said.
Doctors from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who treated Otto Warmbier said upon his arrival that he had suffered “extensive loss of brain tissue” and “severe neurological injury” while in North Korea, but that his vital signs had been stable and that he had shown no sign of infection.
Amanda Nageleisen, a spokeswoman for the medical center, declined to comment on the Warmbiers’ description of their son’s condition.
The Warmbiers also expressed astonishment that North Korea was not on the State Department’s roster of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that subjects the listed countries to special financial and military sanctions. Iran, Sudan and Syria are on the list.
The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in 2008 when North Korea signaled that it would permit nuclear inspections. Trump administration officials have said they are reviewing whether North Korea will again be placed on the list.