Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was detained in North Korea for 17 months, died Monday, just six days after he was returned to his family in Ohio. He was 22.
Warmbier’s family issued a statement immediately following his death, blaming North Koreans for the poor physical and mental condition Warmbier was in when he arrived back in the States.
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands,” the statement reads. “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.”
The University of Virginia student was charged with committing a “hostile act” against North Korea in March 2016, two months after he allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda poster from the hotel where he was staying. (He was visiting the communist country with a Chinese tour company at the time.) He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after a trial that lasted just one hour.
Earlier this year, U.S. diplomats negotiated Warmbier’s evacuation, but his return to America was met with a mix of emotions after it was reported that the college student was in a coma, and had been in one for more than a year.
The North Korean government claimed that Warmbier slipped into a coma after he suffered from botulism – food poisoning – and took a sleeping pill from which he never woke. Neurologists who treated him upon his return to the states said they found no evidence that this was the case. Doctors caring for Warmbier at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center told the New York Times the detainee had suffered “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain” most likely caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest,” which cut off the blood supply to his brain..
President Trump spoke out about Warmbier’s death Monday, calling North Korea a “brutal regime.”
“Melania and I offer our deepest condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier on his untimely passing,” the statement reads. “There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him.”