Otto Warmbier likely died from injuries resulting from oxygen-starvation, but no conclusive evidence of torture was found, an Ohio coroner who examined the U.S. national said on Wednesday.
The results were announced following an interview with Warmbier’s parents on Fox News on Wednesday, in which they said North Korea had “tortured” Warmbier.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier called for North Korea to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, in their first joint interview since their son died in June this year.
“We don’t know what happened to him and that’s the bottom line,” the coroner for Hamilton County, Ohio, Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco told media at a televised news conference.
Sammarco said that her team didn’t have “enough information about what happened” for him to “draw any concrete conclusions” after the examination.
“The fact that he has anoxic encephalitis or brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain, we don’t know what the root cause of that is,” Sammarco said.
She said the condition could be caused in several ways, including discontinuing blood flow to the brain or from not breathing.
“Could that have been a torture at the time? We don’t know.”
Warmbier was held captive in North Korea for more than 17 months and died aged 22.
Sammarco confirmed that her team didn’t find “any evidence of decubiti or bedsores.”
“We believe that for somebody who had been bedridden for more than a year, that his body was in excellent condition, that his skin was in excellent condition,” she said.
The coroner’s report – which is an external examination, not an autopsy – also said Warmbier had a few small scars.
“There is a round scar just above the sternal notch with mild retraction, consistent with a tracheostomy scar,” according to the report.
But Sammarco did reveal that there was one scar that the medical team couldn’t explain.
“We didn’t see any evidence of healing fractures or healed fractures that would have been within that time frame,” Sammarco added.
The report also appeared to contradict a claim from Warmbier’s parents that his teeth had been damaged.
“He was blind. He was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth,” his father Fred Warmbier said on Tuesday during their interview.
But the report did not seem to find any problems with Warmbier’s teeth, saying “the teeth are natural and in good repair.” It added there was “no remarkable alteration” of his nose and ears.
In June, doctors attending to the care of Warmbier told media said that they are unable to ascertain with certainty what caused the severe neurological injury he suffered in North Korea.
Dr. Daniel Kanter, Jordan Bonomo and Brandon Foreman of the University of Cincinnati Health Center, however, said that tests showed “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain.”
Dr. Kanter said the medical team had “no certain or verifiable knowledge of the cause or circumstances of his neurological injury.”
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