That Otto Warmbier's trouble began with an incident at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang is well known, the details of it, less so. In front of North Korean reporters, the American confessed to "committ[ing] the crime of taking down a political slogan"—said to be a propaganda poster—"from the staff holding area" of the hotel. It would ultimately cost him his life. In a lengthy piece for the BBC by Megha Mohan, Calvin Sun recounts his own trip to Yanggakdo Hotel, and the "missing" 5th floor, the floor that some say Warmbier "undoubtedly ventured onto," writes Mohan. Sun's own trip happened after his first year of medical school, in 2011, when the American ended up there after taking a private tour of North Korea that departed from China.
On his group's fifth and final night in Pyongyang, Sun says they were for the first time not supervised by their North Korean guides and decided to explore the 47-story hotel—and try to determine if there really was a fifth floor. The elevator has buttons for floors four and six, but not five, and some in the group had heard rumors about the quirk. And so they accessed a stairwell and found an unlocked, unguarded door that opened onto a floor whose ceiling height was significantly lower than that of the other floors. A corridor featured mostly locked doors, though an open one revealed a room that held what looked like hotel surveillance equipment. Among the propaganda posters was one that read, "This bomb is the product of the Americans. Every product of the Americans is our enemy. Get revenge a thousand hundred times against the Americans." Read the full story here. (Read more Longform stories.)