Contradicting Trump, Otto Warmbier's parents blame Kim Jong Un for the death of their son

The parents of Otto Warmbier issued a blistering statement on Friday saying Kim Jong Un and his government "are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity" after President Donald Trump asserted that the North Korean dictator had been unaware of the harrowing treatment the student endured while detained there.

"We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto," Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement. "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."

Warmbier was arrested for taking a propaganda banner from a hotel while on a visit to Pyongyang in January 2016. The University of Virginia student from Ohio was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but was released after 17 months.

Warmbier, 22, died shortly after he returned to the U.S.

Image: Fred and Cindy Warmbier Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of Otto Warmbier. Maddie McGarvey / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

His parents were told he had been in a coma since not long after he was sentenced. When he was brought back to Cincinnati after his release, his father said he "was jerking violently, making these inhuman sounds.”

“He was blind, he was deaf," Fred Warmbier had said.

Trump said Thursday that Kim was not responsible for and had no knowledge of the of the horrific treatment Warmbier suffered while he was detained in the country for 17 months.

"Some really bad things happened to Otto — some really, really bad things. But he tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word," Trump said, referring to Kim.

"I really don't think it was in his interest at all," he added at a press conference following the collapse of a nuclear summit in Hanoi.

Kim "knew the case very well, but he knew it later," Trump said.

Trump's comments were a glaring reversal from those he made during his first State of the Union address in 2018, which the Warmbiers attended.

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Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment
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Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment

January 2016: Warmbier is imprisoned in North Korea, charged with stealing an item that had a state propaganda slogan on it.

March 2016: Warmbier is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea

March 2016 - 2017: The United States advocates for North Korea's allowing Sweden access to Warmbier and three other American citizens, pushing for their release.

January 2017: President Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, signaling a seat change in American foreign diplomacy.

February 2017: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefs President Trump on the situation surrounding Warmbier's imprisonment in North Korea.Trump directs Tillerson to take all appropriate measures in securing the release of U.S. hostages in North Korea.

May 2017:  The U.S. State Department and North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs hold a meeting in Oslo, Norway, during which they agree to the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang's access to all four detainees. Sweden is later granted these visitation rights, prompting North Korea to request a meeting with the United States.

June 6, 2017 - State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun meets with North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon at the United Nations in New York. Yun learns during this meeting that Warmbier has been in a coma for over a year.

June 6-11, 2017: Secretary of State Tillerson instructs Yun to travel to North Korea with the mission of bringing back Warmbier. They travel with a medical team to Pyongyang.

June 12, 2017: Through Yun, the United States is able for the first time to confirm Warmbier's status. The U.S. demands Warmbier be released on humanitarian conditions. North Korea complies.

June 13, 2017: Warmbier is evacuated from North Korea, travels to Ohio where he will reunite with his family.

June 13, 2017: Otto Warmbier arrives home to Cincinnati, Ohio
June 15, 2017: Otto Warmbier's father, Fred, speaks out during a press conference on his son's return home.
June 15, 2017: Doctors give updates on Warmbier's status during a news conference at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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"After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor before returning him to America last June, horribly injured and on the verge of death," Trump said at the time. He asked the emotional Warmbiers to stand up for applause, and called them "incredible people."

"You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength truly inspires us all. Thank you," he said to them.

Trump's Thursday remarks were met with backlash from both sides of the aisle.

Last year, an American judge ruled Warmbier's parents were entitled to more than $500 million in damages from North Korea's government.

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