tv 2020 ABC June 23, 2017 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT
"what would you do?" will be back here next week, but you can connect with us anytime, like us on facebook and follow us on twitter. that's our program for tonight, but don't go anywhere. "20/20" starts right now. he was just so dang excited all theime. >> he was just, like, full of eternal optimism and hope. >> what he endured is inexcusable. it's inexcusable. >> otto warmbier, how did he go from speaking at graduation to begging for his life? >> i have made the worst mistake of my life. >> to fighting for his life. the last person to see him, speaking out. >> two guards took him away. that was the last time anyone saw him. >> and his parents back home, anguished. >> i'm able to wear the jacket that he wore when he gave his confession.
>> tonight, our "20/20" cameras at the tour group that arranging those risky north korean trips. >> can we talk to you guys? >> no. >> are you pushing me out? >> why would you take people into a place that you know is so dangerous? >> bob woodruff takes us inside a forbidden world. >> right across the river is north korea, and it is absolutely dark. >> the secret talks for otto warmbier's release. what really happened in those 17 months of captivity? >> i have to tell you something publicly.ven't really said >> and what about that mysterious off-limits fifth floor in otto warmbier's hotel? >> every single day, i asked if i could see the place where he's alleged to have taken down that poster. >> don't, the friends who knew him best. their question their outrage and their good-byes. >> that's a video that should be shown. >> you can see his smiling from ear to ear. that's otto.
>> good evening, i'm david muir. elizabeth is back next week. tonight, right here, the part of the story you haven't heard. the extraordinary loss for a mother and father who had not seen their son in 17 months. returned to their from north korea with severe brain damage. this evening, that breaking headline out of north korea. they're now saying they did not hurt him. in fact, they claim that they're the victim. tonight, bob woodruff who has reported from north korea so many times, with what we now know about this extraordinary case, as he pieces together the mystery. ♪ >> reporter: after a long, heart-rending journey home, 22-year-old otto warmbier was laid to rest. thousands of loved ones honoring a young man whose promise seemed limitless. mourners wiping away tears, as the hearse wound its way through town to the cemetery. his friends now speaking out for the first time. >> to now have the opportunity
to explain what type of a guy he was, and what he meant to us, each one of us, we're just really grateful for that, because he was just the best guy. >> reporter: and on display at the funeral, the quiet testimonies of otto's belongings, shoes, his wallet, his passport, his jacket. relics of a journey that began with hope and ended in horror. >> i net down by his side and i hugged him and i told him i missed him and i was so glad that he made it home. >> it's just not acceptable and unthinkable. it's a nightmare, really. >> reporter: december 29th, 2015. otto warmbier was aboard an old soviet jet, crossing into north korean air space. i've made that trip, too, eight times, in fact, where the onboard announcements welcome you to a nation state which is also a state of mind. >> pyongyang is the capital of the juche korea, the might of korea is well known to the
world. >> reporter: immediately otto and his travel group hit the ground running, going on a guided tour of pyongyang, the country's capital. on billboards everywhere, former leader leaders. agustin feliciano made a similar trip two months before otto. >> we would see normal north koreans walking around on the street, people going to work, coming home from work, soldiers going to and from. >> reporter: it's a city teeming with military. the world's fourth largest army. children everywhere, walking in formation, singing praise for their nation. >> there would be a couple times when we would be, like, is that staged? >> reporter: like the glorious little children at the pyongyang nursery school. and what are they singing? this is the song of general kim il-su il-sung. as we watch, we are struck by the uniform smiles, the sin
cronized movements. this might not be the average tourists idea of a perfect vacation, but otto warmbier wasn't the average tourist. >> he just loved traveling in general. >> he just had this sense of curiosity about him. he was never afraid of anything. >> reporter: otto's hometown is the small cincinnati suburb of wyoming, ohio. all american, affluent, known for its top notch schools and tidy tree-lined streets. my colleague linzie janis went to visit. >> we're a close community. >> a tight knit community? >> a tight knit community. we look at the warm beibiers as part of our family. >> reporter: the family, otto's mom cindy, his dad fred, who owns a metal finishing company and his two younger siblings, austin and greta. otto, a prom king and soccer star, grew up with this group of high school friends, spending hours together in this basement hangout. >> and you guys spent a lot of
time here with otto? >> every weekend probably. >> yeah. >> he had that special ability to be able to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. >> he was charismatic? >> oh, my gosh. yes. >> funny? >> hilarious. >> he's so intelligent, but he never made you feel stupid. which was amazing. >> he never bragged. oh, my god. he would get the highest on every test and he would never tell anybody. >> reporter: todd siler was otto's favorite teacher. >> i thought he was putting me on, the first month of class. i thought, this guy's so enthusiastic, he really can't be this excited about u.s. history. but otto was a thinking. >> reporter: otto graduated second in his class and was selected to give a speech at graduation. he showed love to his small town roots, but seemed ready to explore. >> this is our last day together as wyoming high school's class of 2013. tomorrow morning, we will all belong to another class, another job or another city. no matter where we go or what we do, though, we will always have this group here.
>> reporter: after heading off to the university of virginia, otto hopscotched the globe, visiting cuba, israel and ecuador. during his junior year, he embarked on a study program in asia. otto's father would later show fox news' tucker carlson what he had packed for his trip. >> he's got his uva notebook. >> yeah, his passport. this was otto. most o ts stuff wld have been bought at a thrift store. he loved that. >> he's got a taste for zany shirts. >> he does. and he looked good in them. >> reporter: but then, otto made a fateful discovery. one which led to a fateful decision. he found a travel group called young pioneer tours based in china and specializing in tours to north korea. in this promotional video, a tour guide describes the journey. >> north korea is a ten-minute walk that way. here we are in pyongyang now. >> there seems to be an atmosphere on fun associated with this trip, let's go to
north korea on a lark. >> reporter: anna fifield is "the washington post's" tokyo bureau chief. she says young pioneers tapped into the adventurous wanderlust of people like otto. >> their slogan is "tours to destinations your mother doesn't want you to go to." so they are really playing up the whole idea this is off the beaten track. >> reporter: otto's plan was a five-day trip, costing more than $1,000, billed as the new year's party tour. an odd name for a trip into a rogue nation nicknamed the hermit kingdom. >> it's the ultimate forbidden country left in the world. it's sort of the forbidden fruit. so, i think that's -- that's the cause for excitement for why people want to visit. >> do you guys remember the first time he said, "hey, i want to go to north korea?" >> i was excited for him. >> he's otto. >> another otto thing to do. just go wherever, you know? just to craziest place you could think of. >> reporter: after touching down in pyongyang with the young pioneers, otto's itinerary scheduled like clockwork. on day two, his group of about two dozen traveled two hours to
kaesong and the demilitarized zone. from there, it was onto sariwon city, to interact with locals. andrew byrne took the young pioneers tour to north korea just this spring. he says, before you go, they tell you the rules to be followed. >> they brief you on how to behave, what not to do. what's expected of you. there's no room for making fun of the kims or taking a photo that's not polite of kim il-sung or kim jong-il. >> reporter: and for tourists, there are always minders. >> they move you through attraction after attraction very quickly. it's like checking off boxes. >> reporter: but otto seemed to be soaking it all in. >> ready? all right. ready to throw it at me? >> reporter: even having a snowball fight with local north korean kids. >> how would you describe the otto in that footage? >> joyful. >> joyful. he's having fun. he was doing what he always did. and what he was best at.
that's otto. >> reporter: so far, the north korea trip is everything otto had dreamed of. but in pyongyang, there are places you just don't go. and one of them was right here. the mysterious fifth floor of otto's hotel. >> we were kind of given full reign of the hotel, except for one floor. >> the elevator skipped floor number five. one, two, three, four, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. >> so, we were told, don't even try to get to the fifth floor. >> reporter: and those acced of trespassing learn the hard way. you can check out any time you look, but you can never leave. stay with us. ason that these two should not be wed, speak now. (coughs) so sorry. oh no... it's just that your friend daryl here is supposed to be live streaming the wedding and he's not getting any service. i missed, like, the whole thing. what? and i just got an unlimited plan. it's the right plan, wrong network. you see, verizon has the largest, most reliable 4g lte network in america. it's built to work better in cities. tell you what, just use mine. thanks. no problem. all right, let's go live. say hi to everybody who wasn't invited!
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>> reporter: a stranger in a strange land, otto warmbier is making the most of his north korean adventure. the only complaint so far, the cuisine. >> otto told this participant, this is all so strange. >> reporter: journalist isaac stone fish interviewed several of otto's travel mates. >> this participant remembered thinking to themselves, oh, gosh, he's really out of his league here. >> reporter: and out of his league, possibily because this trip is much more than mosaics and military parades. it's a party. among the stops on otto's trip itinerary, taedonggang number three brewery. and rakwon beer bar. home of the 50-cent pint.
>> young pioneer tours approach to appeal to younger people is very much one of, "let's go have fun in north korea, drink some north korean beer." >> reporter: and based on photos on instagram, it appears the founder of young pioneer tours, gareth johnson, likes to chug. and on his arm, a version of the north korean symbol. it's fine for vacationers to throw back a couple, but reportedly those on the trip with otto say the tour guides were also indulging. a regular pattern, stone fish says. >> the problems have been with young pioneer is some sort of recklessness, not enough paying attention to the tourists they're supposed to protect. >> reporter: others tourists have said the guides were professional. the hotel where otto stayed, though typically reserved for foreign government officials, it's located on an island, isolating most visitors. but as rowan, a manager at young pioneers, shows in this youtube video, there is plenty to do.
>> we're going to show you all the facilities and everything this hotel has to offer for all the tourists that come into pyongyang in north korea. let's go. 25 meter lap pool, it's heated. >> reporter: the swimming pool, bowling alley -- >> two lanes have recently been renovated. >> reporter: and a mini mart, to stock up on those travel necessities. >> water, more beer, coffee, korean lollies. >> reporter: but conspicuously missing from this video, the fifth floor. in fact, it's kind of missing altogether. >> we were kind of given full reign of the hotel, except for one floor. >> the elevator skipped number five. one, two, three, four, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. . >> so, we were told, don't even try to get to the fifth floor. >> rorter: we are told the fifth floor is for staff only. off-limits to guests. what actually happens there is the source of rumors, most of them unnerving. >> it's where they keep the surveillance equipment, where they use to bug all of the rooms. >> it was a floor unlike any other floor in that hotel. so, this is a video of our
excursion to the fifth floor. >> reporter: travel blogger calvin sun didn't want to speculate. he wanted to see it. so, in 2011, he and some friends snuck onto the fifth floor -- >> serious fifth floor. >> reporter: and videotaped it. >> what goes on here, nobody knows. the floor you go onto from four to five has paintings. >> reporter: it's not artwork but rather propaganda on the wall. "military first. powerful nation," reads one. but perhaps the most disturbing is this, featuring a bomb with usa on it. "revenge hundred times, a thound times, to american wolves." calvin and h friends had n trouble on the fifth floor that night, but others might not be so lucky. new year's eve, 2015. olt toe, he otto, headed to kim il-sung square for fireworks. we see this scene in 2016, in a youtube video. >> we're here in kim il-sung
square and it is absolutely packed with people. >> happy new year from pyongyang! >> they were out in this big square. just seemed like a fun, festive atmosphere. >> reporter: on the eye tent rare for the next morning, a chopper tour of pyongyang. probably over the same spot eye saw from the air last year. i can't tell exactly how old this helicopter is, but it's working. and later he was posing for pictures at the grand monument. this one posted on twitter. and these others obtained exclusively by dailymail.com. look at how the strapping, all-american towering over the local north korean women, seemingly a fitting finale to his adventure in north korea. >> at the airport, me and otto were the last two through security. and he simply had a tap on the
shoulder. >> reporter: danny gratton was otto's roomate during the trip. >> two guards took him away, and i sort of laughingly said to him, "that's the last we'll ever see of you." and because we got on so well, otto turned around and just chuckled at me. >> reporter: gratton says that was last time anyone saw otto. the tour group was told he was sick and needed treatment, so they left without him. the company says they made numerous attempts to get information about otto, but for nearly three weeks, no word publicly, until the dreaded news breaks. >> breaking news overnight. an american college -- >> he was arrested while perpetrating a hostile act. they are not saying anymore than that. >> to hear your friend's name on national television and really -- you don't really ever get accustomed to that. >> otto warmbier was charged with hostile acts against the state, which is a kind of catch-all charge that north korea levels against people who have done anything. >> reporter: and what exactly did otto do? the north koreans point to this surveillance video. they say that's otto on that infamous forbidden fifth floor of the yanggakdo hotel,
attempting to steal one of those propaganda posters. but the video is so grainy, nobody really knows if it's him. it's unprecedented to do somethingle to a poster with t dear leader on it? >> it's punishment. >> reporter: the following month, he was marched in front of tv cameras and made his so-called confession. >> i understand the severity of my crime and i have no idea what sort of penalty i may face. >> the confession that otto warmbier gave before the cameras early last year, it seemed scripted for him. >> i never should have allowed myself to be allured by the united states administration to commit a crime in this country. >> he admitted to a really bizarre range of things, like belonging to a secret society, stealing this poster on orderers from somebody in a church. >> it's incredibly clear that it
was a performance. >> please. i have made the worst mistake of my life. >> reporter: for his friends, watching it back home in america, the only thing real were his tears. another month passed and otto appeared in a north korean court. this time, to learn his fate. >> north korea runs these kind of sham trials. yes, it was less than one hour, otto had no defense, you know, he was guilty before he went into this. >> please think of my family. i am the oldest son in my family. >> reporter: 21-year-old otto warmbier is sentenced to 15 years in prison, hard labor. the adventurous and curious college student who came to north korea to have fun, throwing snowballs with kids, now in handcuffs, head down. when we come back, what is life like in a north korean prison?
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>> reporter: seoul, south korea. a teeming, high-tech metropolis birthplace of that 21st century classic -- ♪ gangnam style >> reporter: "gangnam style." a stark contrast to life just 35 miles north, across the border, call it pyongyang style. this satellite video tells it all. south korea, ablaze with lights at night. the north, grim and dark. right across the river is north korea, and it is absolutely dark. >> there's no other country that's like north korea that's left in the world. in fact, i would say the whole country is a slave state. we have 25 million people who are imprisoned. >> reporter: this man knows all about the enslavement of the north, and the kind of ordeal otto warmbier may hav faced. he's american kenneth bae, now living in seoul, after spending over two years imprisoned in the north. bae was leading a tour of north korea in 2014 when he ran into
trouble with the authorities -- accused of supposed hostile acts against the regime. just like otto, bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. >> i was devastated to find out what happened to otto. i just cannot imagine what he was going through at the time, knowing that he's actually going to prison in north cree yard for 15 years. >> reporter: kenneth bae and otto warmbier had been caught up in the capricious, brutal world of north korean justice. infractions as minor as not showing the proper affection for the dear leader kim jong-un can earn you a one-way ticket to the gulag of secret prison camps known as kwanliso. >> these camps are places of unimaginable suffering. they're the very machinery of a a widespread and systematic campaign of enslavement and of executions. >> reporter: scott edwards of amnesty international says the facilities are so secretive, the only way to see what they look like is from space, through satellite imagery. what's this we're looking at here? >> so, this is one of these
political prison camps that amnesty has recently imaged. this area is about the size of all of new york city. there's another one up here in the north, kwanliso 16. it's about three times the size of d.c. >> reporter: edwards says within these gargantuan facilities -- whole industries are devoted to slave labor. >> the different areas are different sorts of commercial or agricultural or mining activity. what goes on in the camps that isn'tisible from space is torture, is the intentional starving of populations. it's infanticide. it's rape. it's mutilation. >> reporter: how do you know this? >> we know, primarily, from the testimony of those who have left the camps. >> reporter: although no photos exist of camp conditions, former prisoners have sketched scenes of the grim reality of life inside. >> witnesses actually described literal torture chambers, stress positions. people told of forging for
whatever they could find, eating frogs, finding mice to field to infants. one of these drawings actually shows, you know, the rendition of bodies being carted off to presumably a crematorium. >> reporter: there he goes. of course, to that dear leader, americans like otto are too valuable as political tools to be subject to the wanton killing in these labor camps. but while they escape the biggest horrors, their fate is still tied to the whims of the regime and its irrational notions of what punishment fits the crime. >> it depends. there have been some americans that have talked about being abused. there are others that have said they are treated properly. it varies. >> reporter: take the case of american jeff fowle, who was convicted in north korea in 2014 after deliberately leaving a bible behind at a night club. fowle was detained at that same mysterious luxury hotel, the yanggakdo, where otto was staying. after just a six-month stay at
the hotel and at a guest house, fowle was allowed to go home. i interviewed him after his release. how did they treat you physically? >> physically, i was not abused at all. i got three meals a day. >> reporter: was it pretty good food? >> what they served their guests. >> reporter: but there was no luxury hotel for kenneth bae he was sent to a laboramp specificlyeserved for foreigners. >> i was carrying maybe coal from one place to the other, or carrying rock or digging the hole and any type of manual labor, i have to endure ten hours a day for six days a week. >> reporter: why the harsh treatment? it's because bae was on a mission to spread the word of god in north korea through his tour group. why is north korea so afraid of christianity? >> in north korea, do you know there's only one religion? it's worshipping the leader kim il-sung. we are afraid of someone like you coming in, trying to convert our people or influence our people with your religions, because if this spreads, our
country will fall. >> reporter: kenneth bae languished for 735 days in captivity, the longest held american prisoner ever. bae confessed that he had committed serious crimes against the regime, after extensive negotiations with the u.s., the north koreans finally released him in november of 2014. today, bae is involved with a human rights group in south korea, determined to help get the remaining three american prisoners held in north korea released without the tragedy consequences of otto's case. >> what happened to otto should not happen again. i do believe that something can come out from it. and impact the people in north korea and also all the detain needs that are waiting to come home. >> reporter: when we come back, the dangerous diplomatic dance to win otto's release. the heartbreak of his homecoming, and the medical mystery of what happened to him in north korean custody. >> this is an international outrage. outrage. >> reporter: stay with us. le,
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>> reporter: after otto warmbier's trial, the north koreans made sure the college student disappeared from sight. >> nobody has seen or heard from otto since march of 2016. nobody. >> reporter: in the beginning, father fred warmbier was also out of sight, part of a strategic silence requested by the obama administration and the warmbier's adviser. >> i gave them the same advice that i'd given to other families. they needed to be careful about things that they might say -- that might cause the north koreans to react very angrily and badly. >> we were advised that it was important that you don't upset the north koreans.
>> reporter: it was a tactical maneuver. one of many of both sides. because as otto's family and friends were agonizing back in ohio, north korea and the u.s. were playing a game of geo-political chess, in which the 21-year-old was just a pawn. >> after they arrested otto, four days later, there was a fourth nuclear test. >> north korea saying they have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. >> it takes weeks to prepare such a test so, they had in mind that they were going to do nuclear tests and there's going to be sanctions that follow. >> reporter: what did kim jong-un get out of this if they throw americans in prison? >> it would blunt any kind of heavy pressure from united states if you have american hostages. like you -- maybe americans will not conduct a military strike. >> reporter: like a bargaining chip? >> yes, absolutely a bargaining chip. >> usually, what the north koreans have wanted is humanitarian assistance of some kind. food, rice, in exchange. >> reporter: former new mexico 2k3w governor bill richardson now runs a foundation aimed at rescuing political prisoners.
>> reporter: but with kim jong-un, this new leader, we don't know what he wants. he stays silent. >> one of the very first things that i said to the warmbier family was that the north koreans will let otto come home when they are done with him. when he is of no longer value to them. >> reporter: journalist anna fifield heads to that notorious hotel in pyongyang, looking for answers, finding only frustration. >> i asked if i could see the place where he's alleged to have take down that poster. and there was just nothing. no news whatsoever coming out of the north korean system. >> reporter: otto's father, fred, works tirelessly to get his son back. >> we've been to washington, d.c. over a dozen times. we've met our senators, our congressmen, we've worked with governor richardson. >> my organization worked with the family. briefed them. tried to get ottout. >> reporr: the response? >> north koreans stiffed me. they never said yes. they never said no. >> reporter: i was back in north korea myself last september.
driving two hours south, we arrive at the demilitarized zone. so, here's the line. on the other side is south korea? >> i met with the director general, high ranking official who told me americans like otto will be treated as prisoners of war. >> they began calling the americans that they had in custody prisoners of war. all belts were off in terms of the -- the rules that they were required to follow. >> reporter: back in ohio, the family was running out of patience. while otto's friends prayed for his survival. if anyone can fight through it, it's otto. he had the courage and bravery to do it. >> thank you. >> reporter: then, in november, the u.s. selected a new president. and the clash of the titans began. both leaders are unpredictable. >> right. >> reporter: both trump and kim jong-un. >> right. >> reporter: in february, the new president directed secretary of state rex tillerson to take
all appropriate measures to bring otto home. as winter turned to spring, kim jong-un was making his own headlines, with more missile testing and accusations he killed his own half brother. >> kim jong-un is more frightening. he seems to be more brutal. he seems to be more reckless. he has anger management issues. >> he's acting very, very badly. i will tell you, he's acting very badly. >> reporter: the new administration views its predecessors north korea poll sill as something else to repeal and replace. >> the policy of strategic patience has ended. >> reporter: by april, the warmbier family has also changed it's approach and broken its silence. john kerry was secretary of state at the time. did h help you in any way? >> no. absolutely not. >> did anyone in the state department help you in any way? >> no. >> this sense of frustration and anger, i've heard it before, and i understand it. >> reporter: this past april, we were in north korea again, walking the super clean streets and hearing this chilling remark. is it more dangerous now in terms of relationship between the u.s. and dprk than ever
before? "i can say that the situation of the korean peninsula is much more tense." later that month, one week after parading its military might, the north koreans detained another american -- tony kim. >> detaining an american as he was leaving a teaching assignment there. >> reporter: was it an act of confidence or fear? do you think they're more afraid of trump than they were of previous presidents? >> they might, just because the whole world thinks that mr. trump is more unpredictable. >> tonight, i ordered a targeted mill stair strike. >> reporter: and they've seen what happened with syria, with the missile strike. so, i'm sure they are very nervous. >> reporte >> reporter: then, a year after stone walling, negotiations for otto's release begin. >> in may of this year, there were some of these talks. they were held in oslo.
and at these talks we now know was joseph yun. >> reporter: joseph yun works for the state department, specializing in north korea policy, and suddenly, he's making progress. otto's friends envisioning their friend returning for fr his imprisonment in triumph. >> coming home to the basement, giving him a big hug, and hearing his stories. >> reporter: but within weeks, those hopes are dashed. joseph yun is summoned to an urgent meeting at the u.n. >> it was at that meeting on june 6th that the north koreans disclosed that otto warmbier was in a coma. >> now we know why the north koreans stiffed me. otto was in a coma and they didn't want anybody to know. >> reporter: secretary tillerson immediately dispatched yun and his gulfstream 3 to the rogue nation with one order. bring otto home. >> yun immediately insisted with the north koreans he be released on humanitarian grounds. >> reporter: and as otto's loved ones were anxiously awating his arrival, the horror of his maltreatment suddenly was so real as he was brought off the plane, limp and unconscious. >> we were all very hopeful, no matter what people were saying.
so, i don't think we really fully grasped how serious it was. >> reporter: an exhausted father, wearing the same jacket otto wore at his trial, was relieved his son was home, but brissefuling at the north korean's claim that this was a humanitarian act. >> they wouldn't do this out of the kindness of their hearts. north korea doesn't do anything out of the kindness of their hearts. >> i think the reason the north koreans released him was because he was -- he looked like he was about to die. and they didn't want him to die in north korea. >> reporter: when we return, we track down the group that brought otto to north korea -- >> is this young pioneer tours? >> reporter: -- looking for answers. friend daryl here is supposed to be live streaming the wedding and he's not getting any service. i missed, like, the whole thing. what? and i just got an unlimited plan. it's the right plan, wrong network. you see, verizon has the largest, most reliable 4g lte network in america.
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described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness. >> reporter: the bad news gets worse. >> the worsening horror for a mother and father from ohio. their son, w was just returned from north korea with severe brain damage, has now died. >> reporter: it was not the high school homecoming that otto warmbier's parents could ever have imagined. his funeral was held in the auditorium of his alma mater, cincinnati's wyoming high school, yesterday. on display, the jacket he wore on the north korean court, and the passport that ultimately did not save his life. >> we feel like we lost a son. >> he represents everything that's the best in our community and we're just offering support for the family. >> reporter: after 18 months of helplessly following otto's captivity, reaction to his shocking end washed across social media. on everyone's mind, what happened to him in north korea? at a press conference at the hospital in cincinnati, where he was briefly treated before his death, some clues were revealed.
>> our purpose today is to describe the medical and neurological condition of mr. otto warmbier. >> reporter: it turns thut mri images supplied by the north koreans showed that otto's injury was over a year old. >> the earliest images are dated april 2016. based upon our analysis of those images, the brain injury likely occurred in the preceding weeks. >> reporter: that's just weeks after these images were shot of warmbier dragged from a north korean court. >> this pattern of brain injury, however, is usually seen as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest, where the blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time, resulting in the deatof brain tissue. >> reporter: what caused that brain injury? after doctors ran a battery of
tests, they could narrow the possibilities. is it possible that hid his was beaten and that caused brain injury? >> they did not see any evidence of fracture. >> reporter: dr. arianne lewis of new york university is a neurologist. she did not personally examine otto. if he was hit on the left side of the brain, the tissues would be damaged on that side, but not the entire brain? >> correct. if he was hit on the left side of the brain, then you would expect there to be a big injury on the left side, not something that was a global process throughout the entire brain. >> reporter: the north koreans had claimed that this was a case of botulism combined with a sleeping pill. but -- >> you say you didn't find any evidence whatsoever of botulism at all? >> that's correct. yeah. >> reporter: but dr. lewis says, even an autopsy, which otto's parents decided to forego, would likely not have solved the mystery. >> there's nothing that can be looked at from a pathological perspective to say here's exactly the sequence of events that happened while over there. >> reporter: whatever the truth,
many wonder why young pioneer tours would offer a trip like this. in a statement to us, they noted that none of the previous travellers who had been detained in north korea had suffered such tragic finality. still, they will no longer be organized tours for u.s. citizens to north korea and they expressed their deepest sympathies to the warmbier family. for more answers, we sent an abc producer here to china. down this dark hallway, he found the young pioneer tour offices. >> is this young pioneer tour reporter: the sff didn't exactly give him a five-star welcome. >>i. so, i'm with abc news. can we talk to you guys? >> no. >> can we -- is there anyone available to talk to the camera? >> no. we released a statement and that's all we have to say. >> are you seriously pushing me out? i just asked nicely -- who can i
talk to? is there anyone i can contact? >> our media officer. >> we've been trying to contact him for the past few days. >> keep trying. >> reporter: up next, could otto's death be the tipping point in a dangerous high stakes international game? there's this old korean saying that if somebody point as gun at with some big news about type 2 diabetes. you have type 2 diabetes, right? yes. so let me ask you this... how does diabetes affect your heart? it doesn't, does it? actually, it does. type 2 diabetes can make you twice as likely to die from a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke. and with heart disease, your risk is even higher. you didn't know that. no. yeah.
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and together. women eat. we don't doubt it. we own it. special k. >> reporter: otto's now all too familiar perp walk was reprised only a month later, in the same courtroom by another american. that's businessman kim dong-chul, one of the three americans still detained in north korea. the other two are college professors tony kim and kim hak-song. >> we still have three americans left there that need to come home, and we need to get them out. >> reporter: former governor bill rich,ardson h negotiated with the regime in the past, has a stern warning to the estimated 1,000 americans traveling to north korea every year. >> don't go to north korea. it's too dangerous. and you may end up like otto warmbier. unjustly killed. this is a human being detained,
21 years old with a great family a grieving family. north korea should not get away with this. >> reporter: could an international incident like the death of otto ignite a larger conflict? do you think there's any chance of a u.s. military attack? >> over 10,000 artillery pieces is 60 seconds away from seoul. we have some 20 million people living there. we have some 200,000 american expats living there. we have 28,500 american soldiers living there. you -- so, just forget about the nuclear weapon, just conventi conventional artillery alone can devastate seoul. so, this is not really an option that we can pursue. >> reporter: when i visited north korea earlier this year, the vice foreign minister gave me a chilling hint of the regime's state of mind. there's this old korean saying that if somebody points a gun at you, you'll point the gun back, but if we offer you a rice cake, you'll offer a rice cake back. do you think in this condition right now, do you think -- are we going to have peace with a cake or are we going to have a bullet?
>> translator: the exact expression is that if america pulls out a knife, we will pull out a sword and if america puts out a gun, we will pull out a cannon. >> reporter: so, what other options are on the table? the u.s. will likely keep up its reported cyber attacks on north korea's missile system, while continuing to push for china's cooperation in the region. china accounts for roughly 90% of north korea's trade. >> china is our ally in an effort to quell north korea, but they still haven't done enough. >> reporter: more likely, the next stepould be economic sanctions against chinese banks that do business with north korea. >> think of the north korean regime as a large mafia family. they make their money off of everything illicit. drugs, cigarettes, money laundering, arms smuggling. the u.s. will go in and try to stop those, cut those off and
essentially cut the life blood of the north korean economy off. >> reporter: and as america mourns otto's death -- >> i wish there was a way to know that you are in the good old days before you actually left them. >> reporter: his friends are remembering his bright spirit. >> he said, we'll always have each other, talking about our class, and i think now more than ever that's really -- really showing to be true, and otto would want that. >> and we will have the reruns, the memories we created to be played over and over again. thank you. >> otto warmbier in his own words. those words his mother and father, his entire family will hold onto. our thanks to bob woodruff tonight. and that is "20/20" for this evening. thank you for watching. i'm david muir. for elizabeth vargas and all of us here at "20/20," have a good evening. good night.