Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student held captive in North Korea for over a year before his release last week, has died, according to his family. He was 22 years old.
Warmbier returned to the United States last Tuesday after being released from a North Korean jail on medical grounds. The student had been in a coma for nearly 18 months, most of his imprisonment.
According to his father, Fred Warmbier, the family was told he contracted botulism and fell into a coma after taking a sleeping pill—a claim the Warmbier family strongly disputes. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where they were treating Warmbier, said he had high levels of lost brain tissue and was nonresponsive but awake, the Washington Post reports.
In a statement, the Warmbier family expressed heartfelt loss for Otto and condemned the “awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans.” Their statement reads:
It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20pm.
It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person. You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.
We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.
When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.
We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too.
Fred & Cindy Warmbier and Family
President Donald Trump, whose administration helped secure Warmbier’s release, sent his “deepest condolences” to Warmbier’s friends and family.
“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” Trump said in a statement. “The Unites States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
Warmbier was arrested on Jan. 2, 2016, for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign from a staff-only floor of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang with a group of other foreigners. North Korean state media described his alleged crime as “a hostile act against the state.” He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
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