Danny Gratton, Otto Warmbier’s roommate in North Korea, detailed the final moments he had with Warmbier, who died on Monday after being in a year-long coma during his imprisonment in North Korea.
Gratton, a sales manager from England, spent four days in North Korea with Warmbier, according to a Washington Post report. During that time, they reportedly bonded over drinks.
“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.”
During the second night of their stay, Warmbier allegedly entered a staff-only section of the hotel and took down a propaganda poster on the wall. North Korean officials claimed that they had footage of the incident and subsequently coerced Warmbier to make a plea during an emotional court hearing.
“I’ve got nothing from my experiences with him that would suggest he would do something like that,” Gratton said, refuting Pyongyang’s allegations. “At no stage did I ever think he was anything but a very, very polite kid.”
When the two attempted to get through an immigration officer at the Pyongyang International Airport on Jan. 2, 2016, two North Korean officials reportedly took Warmbier. At the time, Gratton believed that it was merely a routine procedure, or another one of North Korea’s irksome tactics on an American; however, he says that it ended up being “the last physical time I saw Otto, ever.”
“No words were spoken,” said Gratton. “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.”
“Otto didn’t resist,” continued Gratton. “He didn’t look scared. He sort of half-smiled.”
Although Gratton expressed doubts on Warmbier’s charges, he maintained that even if Warmbier had intended to steal the propaganda banner, the ramifications for the act was disproportional.
“No one deserves that. He was just a young lad who wanted a bit of adventure,” Gratton 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.”