The only Westerner to see American Otto Warmbier detained by North Korea security services in January 2016 says he was never contacted by the Obama administration about the incident.
In his first public interview, Danny Gratton of Staffordshire, England, told The Washington Post he met Warmbier in Beijing in late December 2015 as part of a tour group traveling to North Korea – and was his roommate in Pyongyang.
"Otto was just a really great lad who fell into the most horrendous situation that no one could ever believe," Gratton told the Post.
"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."
Gratton told the Post he has been in intermittent contact with Warmbier's parents over the past 18 months – and that he's "stunned" nobody from the U.S. government or the tour group ever tried to contact him to ask him if he had any information about what happened.
The 21-year-old American student returned to the United States in a coma this week.
According to Gratton, on their second night in Pyongyang – New Year's Eve – the tour group went out into the city square before coming back to the hotel for more drinking.
North Koreans charged it was at that point Warmbier allegedly went into a staff-only area of the hotel and tore down a propaganda banner hanging on the wall, intending to steal it.
His confession, which the Post described as "clearly under duress," was broadcast by state media.
"No one deserves that," Gratton told the Post. "He was just a young lad who wanted a bit of adventure. 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's last time seeing Warmbier was at the Pyongyang International Airport early Jan. 2, 2016.
After handing their passports to the immigration officer, there was a lull, followed by the appearance of two North Korean security officials, who took Warmbier to a private room.
"No words were spoken," he told the Post. "Two guards just come over and simply tapped Otto on the shoulder and led him away. 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."
"That was it," he told the Post. "That was the last physical time I saw Otto, ever. I was also the only person to see Otto taken away.
"Otto didn't resist. He didn't look scared. He sort of half-smiled."
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