Fred Warmbier, the father of an American who died after he was imprisoned in North Korea, will attend the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, later this month, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. He will travel to the country as a guest of Vice President Mike Pence.
Warmbier’s son, Otto, died last June after suffering brain damage while in the custody of the North Korean government. The younger Warmbier was in a coma for around 15 months before he was returned to the United States, although it’s unclear how he sustained the injuries that brought on the condition. Officials in Pyongyang said the coma was brought on by a mix of botulism and sleeping pills, although an autopsy could not confirm the cause of the brain damage, which a coroner called extensive.
Pence is expected to speak about continued pressure by the U.S. against North Korea in an effort to curtail the regime’s ambitions of crafting an arsenal of nuclear weapons capable of reaching America, the Post reported. His presence ― at the end of a five-day trip to Asia ― comes as the North is expected to send athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time in years, including a joint team with the South in women’s ice hockey.
The Warmbiers recently attended President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address as guests of the White House. In his speech, Trump spoke about Warmbier’s imprisonment and called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “cruel” and “depraved.”
“You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires truly us all,” Trump said. “Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve.”
Warmbier’s parents have been harsh critics of the North Korean government since their son’s imprisonment, and accused the Obama administration of not doing enough to ensure his return. Warmbier, then 21, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after he was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster while on a group tour to the country in early 2016. His parents were unable to speak to him during his entire imprisonment, and were only told of his condition in the hours before he was returned to the U.S.
In an interview three months after his death, Warmbier’s father condemned the actions of the North and slammed the Kim regime as torturers.
“We’re here to tell you North Korea is not a victim,” Fred Warmbier said on Fox News. “They’re terrorists. They kidnapped Otto, tortured him, they intentionally injured him ... 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.
His wife, Cindy, said the North had “destroyed” her son.