© 2022 Cincinnati Public Radio
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Warmbier Returns Home Tuesday Night

Otto Warmbier is carried off the plane at Lunken Airport and put in an ambulance headed for UC Medical Center.

Update: A small group of supporters came to Lunken Airport Tuesday night carrying signs saying, "Welcome Home Otto."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
These women wanted to remain anonymous but brought their support to Lunken for Otto Warmbier.

Most were family friends who say they feel terrible that the Wyoming High School grad was reportedly beaten while jailed in North Korea and has been in a coma for over a year.

Otto Warmbier's plane, a Gulfstream flying in from Alaska, landed at Lunken about 10:10 p.m. It taxied to the terminal and a couple of people carried Warmbier off the plane and into an ambulance headed for the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.


U. S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says North Korea has released Wyoming, Ohio native Otto Warmbier where he had been serving a 15 year sentence of hard labor. His parents told the Washington Post that their son is in a coma.

The University of Cincinnati Medical Center has announced Otto Warmbier is expected to arrive late Tuesday. Warmbier's plane will arrive at 10 p.m., at Lunken Airport. The family plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning at Wyoming High School.

The University of Virginia student was arrested in late January 2016 while on a trip to North Korea "while perpetrating a hostile act," according to North Korean media. They said he tried to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel while visiting the country. He later appeared on state TV apparently confessing and saying a church group had asked him to bring back a "trophy" from his trip.

Here is reaction from Ohio Senator Rob Portman:

“The Secretary of State has confirmed to me that Otto has been released by North Korea, and is being returned to his family. Fred, Cindy, and the Warmbier family have been remarkably strong throughout this ordeal. Over the last 18 months, they have had to endure more than any family should have to bear. In the days and months ahead, I would urge everyone to continue to lift them up in prayer and to respect their privacy. “Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior. Otto should have been released from the start. For North Korea to imprison Otto with no notification or consular access for more than a year is the utmost example of its complete failure to recognize fundamental human rights and dignity. “We still have three Americans who are being held unjustly by North Korea. They should be released immediately.”

The U.S. government and other countries had been working for months to secure his release. Ultimately it may have come down to Dennis Rodman. The former NBA player went to North Korea this week. Kim Jong-un is a huge fan.

In fact, political activist, consultant and NBA agent David Sugarman  put on the full court press months ago recognizing it was a similar situation to that of Kenneth Bae who Sugarman helped to free from a North Korean prison in 2014.

Sugarman's social media campaign #BringBaeBack and his repeated cold calls to the North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations and subsequent meetings are credited for helping with Bae's release.

On April 22, 2016 Sugarman met with the North Korean Ambassador in New York. The Ambassador asked for basketball gear and Sugarman asked about Warmbier.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.