Cause of Ohio man's death in North Korea may never be known

FILE – In this March 16, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea. Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of a young Ohioan who was detained in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after being released, appeared on Fox News' "Fox & Friends" morning TV show Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, saying their son was "jerking violently," howling, and "staring blankly" when he returned home on a medical flight that arrived June 13 in Cincinnati. He died less than a week after returning at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

The Associated Press

Details surrounding Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student who died in June after being detained in North Korea for 17 months, were released this week by the Hamilton County Coroner's office in Ohio.

The report -- an external examination, not an autopsy -- describes a 4.3-by-1.6-inch scar on Warmbier's right foot. Parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier mentioned this scar during an interview with CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Tuesday, when they broke their three-month silence.

"How do you get a scar that covers the entire top of your foot?" Cindy Warmbier asked. "(The coroner) said it had to be an open wound for months and months and months."

The coroner's report did not include this last detail. It describes a number of smaller scars, but does not contain details as to what caused them or how long they had been there.

The report also offers information that seemingly conflicts with his parents' account.

"His bottom teeth look like they had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged them," Fred Warmbier said. However, the coroner's report says, "the teeth are natural and in good repair."

Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco addressed the discrepancy, speaking at a news conference Wednesday. She said her team, which included a forensic dentist, evaluated Warmbier's body as well as various scans of his body.

"I felt very comfortable that there wasn't any evidence of trauma" to the teeth or jawbone, Sammarco said. "We were surprised at (the parents') statement."

Fred Warmbier told CNN on Wednesday the family will not be commenting further.

On Tuesday, Warmbier's parents described what they saw when they approached the plane that returned their son in June.

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

Warmbier's eyes were darting around, "as big as saucers," his father said. His head was shaved, and he had a feeding tube in place.

His hands and legs were "totally deformed," Cindy Warmbier said. The coroner's report describes abnormal flexing of the arms and legs, which it attributes to severe brain damage from not getting enough oxygen.

In June, doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center described his state as "unresponsive wakefulness," a product of this brain damage.


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