President Donald Trump said his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "would not have happened" without Otto Warmbier, the American college student who mysteriously died after being sent home from a North Korean labor camp last year.
Trump appeared to sidestep a question about him calling Kim "talented" given North Korea's humanitarian record and human rights violations by crediting Warmbier's death for bringing the two world leaders together.
"Otto Warmbier is a very special person and he will be for a long time in my life. His parents are good friends of mine. I think without Otto, this would not have happened," Trump told reporters at a Tuesday news conference in Singapore.
"Something happened from that day, was a terrible thing. It was brutal," the president added. "But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain. He had a lot to do with us today."
Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy, issued a statement Tuesday, "We appreciate President Trump's recent comments about our family. We are proud of Otto and miss him. Hopefully something positive can come from this."
The summit, where Trump and Kim signed a joint statement agreeing to pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, was held on the anniversary of Warmbier's release.
Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from Ohio, was imprisoned in North Korea in March 2016 after he was arrested for taking a poster from a hotel he was staying in while on a tourist visit to Pyongyang and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
However, he was released by North Korea on “humanitarian grounds" in June 2017 and sent home in a coma, where doctors described his condition as "unresponsive wakefulness." He died days later on June 19, and it is still not known what exactly killed him.
His parents, at the time, described harrowing details of their son's condition, claiming he was "tortured" and "destroyed" inside the country. Trump tweeted in September 2017 that Warmbier "was tortured beyond belief by North Korea."
A coroner disputed claims by Warmbier's parents that his teeth were damaged, and said her office's post-mortem exam indicated he had been well tended to in the year since something unknown starved his brain of oxygen.
The North Koreans claimed that Warmbier contracted botulism, caused by a rare toxin, and then fell into coma after taking a sleeping pill. But doctors in Cincinnati found no evidence of botulism — yet also said there were no signs of fractures to indicate he was beaten into the coma.
The Warmbiers are suing North Korea alleging that the country violated international law by killing their son.