Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was recently sent home in a coma after being held prisoner for 17 months in North Korea, died Monday at age 22.
Warmbier’s family released a statement that said he passed away at 2:20 p.m. ET at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he had been undergoing treatment since his surprise return from North Korea on June 13. The family’s statement blamed his death on the “tortuous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans,” and said he was “unable to speak, unable to see, and unable to react to verbal commands.”
Warmbier’s family said that when he returned from North Korea, “he looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished,” but that he seemingly improved in recent days. “Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace,” the statement said. “He was home and we believe he could sense that.”
Warmbier reportedly slipped into a coma in North Korea shortly after he delivered a tearful — and likely coerced — confession in March 2016 that he attempted to steal a propaganda banner from an off-limits area of his hotel in Pyongyang. The University of Virginia student was arrested on Jan. 2, 2016 while trying to leave the North Korean capital after a brief visit, and subsequently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Little was known about his condition until U.S. officials negotiated his release last week.
Warmbier’s family has said they were told he became unresponsive after he contracted botulism and took a sleeping pill. Yet his parents and doctors in the United States have disputed that account, alleging that he suffered brain damage after being badly beaten. During a press conference last week, Fred Warmbier acknowledged that the true cause of his son’s condition may never be known; doctors said he had suffered extensive loss of brain tissue and was in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.”
President Donald Trump reportedly said Monday that “bad things” happen in “brutal” North Korea, but at least Warmbier died at home with his parents.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman released a statement about Warmbier’s death.
Three other U.S. citizens are currently detained in North Korea, including two who were arrested earlier this year.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.