During President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address to Congress on Tuesday, he devoted a portion of his speech to the memory of late UVa undergraduate Otto Warmbier. He also recognized Warmbier’s parents and siblings, joining the rest of the chamber in a standing ovation in the family’s honor.
Warmbier was detained in North Korea in January 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda banner from a Pyongyang hotel. The authoritarian government then sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for “colluding with the FBI” against the regime. At the time of his arrest, Warmbier was a third-year student in the University’s McIntire School of Commerce. He was released in June 2017 and was evacuated to his home state of Ohio in a comatose state, where he died less than one week later at the age of 22.
“Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia,” Trump said. “On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state. 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. He passed away just days after his return.”
The president then addressed Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, who sat behind First Lady Melania Trump. He went on to recognize the couple’s surviving children, Austin and Greta, who were also present.
“You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all,” he told the family. “Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.”
Trump led the Congress in a standing ovation. Warmbier’s parents, moved by the show of support, waved to the crowd in thanks. Warmbier’s mother wiped away tears while his father was also visibly emotional.
The president cited the late University student’s story as evidence of the North Korean regime’s “depraved character.”
“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland…Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”
Trump asked the Congress to remember the extent of the dictatorship’s past brutality in order “to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.”
To watch President Trump’s first State of the Union Address, click here.
To see photos from the 2017 student vigil for Otto Warmbier on Grounds, click here.