US student sent home from North Korea dies
Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was released by North Korea in a coma last week after almost a year and a half in captivity, died Monday, his family said.
The 22-year-old “has completed his journey home,” relatives said in a statement. They did not cite a specific cause of death.
“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,” his parents said.
Doctors had described his condition as a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” and said he suffered a “severe neurological injury” of unknown cause.
His father, Fred Warmbier, said last week that he believed Otto had been fighting for months to stay alive to return to his family. The family said he looked uncomfortable and anguished after arriving June 13 but his countenance later changed.
“He was peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that,” they said.
Warmbier was accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting with a tour group and was convicted of subversion. He was put before North Korean officials and journalists for a televised “confession.”
“I have made the worst mistake of my life!” he exclaimed, choking up as he begged to be allowed to reunite with his parents and two younger siblings.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor.
The University of Virginia student was held for more than 17 months. His family said it was told he had been a coma since soon after his March 2016 sentencing.
Doctors said he suffered extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes opened and blinked but without any sign that he understood verbal commands or his surroundings.
North Korea said Warmbier went into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill. Doctors in Cincinnati said they found no active sign of botulism or evidence of beatings.
His parents told The Associated Press the day of his release that they wanted “the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime.”
Fred Warmbier praised his son’s “performance” and President Donald Trump’s administration. He was critical of the approach to his son’s situation taken by former President Barack Obama’s administration.
In a White House statement, Trump said, “A lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents.” He called North Korea a “brutal regime.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he offered his prayers as Warmbier’s parents “enter a time of grief no parent should ever know,” and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Warmbier’s death “touches the American heart like no other.”