The United States State Department secured the release of an American prisoner in North Korea on the same day Dennis Rodman touched down in the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced Tuesday that 22-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was released from a North Korean prison, where he had been sentenced to 15 years with hard labor for “hostile acts against the state.” Warmbier’s family told The Washington Post that officials in North Korea told American envoys that Warmbier had been in a coma for more than a year after becoming ill with botulism and taking a sleeping pill.
U.S. officials have not confirmed Warmbier’s medical condition, but he’s set to arrive in Cincinnati on Tuesday night after a stop at a U.S. military facility near Sapporo, Japan.
As for Rodman’s arrival in Pyongyang on Tuesday, officials told The Post that the five-time NBA champion’s presence in the country was a “bizarre coincidence.” Some speculated Rodman, who has been to North Korea’s capital four other times, was going to help secure the release of Warmbier and three other American detainees, but the U.S. officials said it might have been a ploy to distract from the 22-year-old’s condition.
Warmbier has been in a North Korean jail since March 2016 after he went to a staff-only level of the hotel he was staying at on New Year’s Eve and attempted to steal a large propaganda poster. He had not been seen in public since his detention, and Swedish diplomats representing U.S. interests — the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea — were denied access to Warmbier.
Despite Rodman’s frequent trips, the U.S. still warns Americans to avoid travel to North Korea.
Thumbnail photo via Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports Images