An American college student who has been in North Korean custody for a year-and-a-half arrived in Cincinnati Tuesday night on a medical evacuation flight.
A state department official and a source close to the family said the 22-year-old contracted botulism last year and slipped into a coma after taking a sleeping pill.
His release came after Joseph Yun, the US State Department's special envoy on North Korea, travelled to Pyongyang and demanded Warmbier's release on "humanitarian grounds", capping a flurry of secret diplomatic contacts, a US official said.
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - Dennis Rodman, the former National Basketball Association bad boy who has palled around with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, began sightseeing in Pyongyang on Wednesday during a trip he said he hoped would "open a door" for his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss - President Donald Trump.
Otto Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, confirmed in a statement that their son is in a coma. "We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him".
Details of what Rodman plans to do there on his current visit remain elusive.
U.S. officials refused to comment on his condition, but former ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he had spoken with the family.
The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns.
On Tuesday, South Korean military officials told reporters that a North Korean drone found last week had taken photographs of a recently installed, US -made anti-missile system.
Three Korean-Americans are now believed to be held in North Korea, and Tillerson said Tuesday the State Department was continuing discussions with the North Koreans about them. Critics of engagement with North Korea say Rodman's visits legitimize the country's ruling regime.
Rodman said the issue of several Americans detained by North Korea is "not my goal right now", in remarks made in Beijing before the release of Warmbier was publicly disclosed.
Hours after Rodman arrived in the capital, North Korea released 22-year-old U.S. student Otto Warmbier from a 15-year sentence of hard labour.
In the 1990s he visited at President Clinton's request to secure the release of the pilot of a USA helicopter downed after unintentionally straying across the DMZ during a routine training mission (a second pilot was killed); and to bring home an American man accused of espionage after swimming across a river on the North Korea-China border.
The North Korean court held that Warmbier had committed a crime "pursuant to the USA government's hostile policy toward (the North), in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist".
The North has occasionally jailed United States citizens and released them only after visits by high-profile political figures, including former president Bill Clinton.
Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 for subversion. But the fact that he had been kept, comatose, in North Korea for more than a year could worsen the already tense relationship between Pyongyang and Washington. Meshach Kanyion, pastor of the church in Wyoming, declined to comment Wednesday.
The brutalization and terrorism the North Koreans have put upon Otto and the Warmbier family have ended.
Kim also delivered a public confession and apology, wherein he said that in 2013 he began spying on behalf of "South Korean conservative elements", the New York Times reported at the time. He reportedly was detained for trying to remove a propaganda banner from his hotel. Warmbier's family said in a statement that he is in a coma and on his way home. "This is wrong", David Lee, one of the men who said he studied with Kim, told CNN.
He informed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who consulted with Trump, the officials said.
Moon, a center-left politician who was sworn in last month after a landslide election win, wants to engage with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, rather than continuing the hardline stance taken by his ousted predecessor Park Geun-Hye. He said Warmbier's sentence was "unnecessary and appalling".
Asked whether he was working on the release of detained Americans, he said, "that is not my goal right now".