Student was victim of ‘evil’ North Korea: travel buddy – New York Post

A travel buddy of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier – held for 18 months by North Korea – said the young American is a victim of if an “unnecessary and evil” act by the hermit kingdom.

Danny Gratton and Warmbier met in late December 2015 and roomed together when they were in the same China-based travel group that went to Pyongyang for four days and three nights.

Gratton, a 40-something sales manager from the small English town of Stone in Staffordshire, said Warmbier was nothing but courteous and mature during their time together in North Korea.

On the day they were to leave North Korea, Warmbier was arrested for an alleged “a hostile act against the state” and held until just this week – when he was released and in a coma.

“Otto was just a really great lad who fell into the most horrendous situation that no one could ever believe,” Gratton told the Washington Post on Thursday.

“It’s just something I think in the Western world we just can’t understand, we just can’t grasp, the evilness behind that dictatorship.”

North Korea accused Warmbier of trying to steal a propaganda banner.

US North Korea
Otto Warmbier (center) is loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher.

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APTOPIX US North Korea

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A person believed to be Otto Warmbeir is transferred from a medical transport airplane to an awaiting ambulance at Lunken Airport in Cincinnat

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North Korea Detained American

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People, believed to be family members, approach and board the medical transport plane carrying Otto Warmbier before he was transferred to an awaiting ambulance at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati

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Gratton said he was with the student nearly 24-7 during the trip and never saw any such theft.

“I’ve got nothing from my experiences with him that would suggest he would do something like that,” he said. “At no stage did I ever think he was anything but a very, very polite kid.”

The Englishman insisted no one should blame Warmbier for what happened.

“No one deserves that. He was just a young lad who wanted a bit of adventure,” he said.

“Every once in a while they single out someone to make a point, and this was just Otto’s turn. It’s so sick and warped and unnecessary and evil. ”

Gratton said he’s amazed no one from either the travel tour company or the US government tried reaching him over the past 18 months.

He vividly recalled the last time he saw Warmbier, at the airport in Pyongyang on Jan. 2, 2016.

The roommates were running late because the hotel mysteriously messed up their wakeup call.

And as they showed airport security their passports, officials asked Warmbier to come with them.

Neither man panicked and Gratton said he even cracked a joke.

“No words were spoken. Two guards just come over and simply tapped Otto on the shoulder and led him away,” Gratton said. “I just said kind of quite nervously, ‘Well, that’s the last we’ll see of you.’ There’s a great irony in those words.”

Gratton was the last Westerner to see Warmbier before he was taken into custody.

“That was it. That was the last physical time I saw Otto, ever. I was also the only person to see Otto taken away,” Gratton said. “Otto didn’t resist. He didn’t look scared. He sort of half-smiled.”

Gratton didn’t know about the theft allegations against his pal for another 20 days.

The Englishman said he has nothing by good memories of the American.

“I got to know Otto really, really well,” he said. “He was such a mature lad for his age.”

Student was victim of ‘evil’ North Korea: travel buddy – New York Post