CINCINNATI — Otto Warmbier, the American college student who spent 17 months in detention in North Korea, died Monday afternoon in Cincinnati, his family said in a statement.
“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 2:20 p.m.,” the statement said.
The 22-year-old returned to the United States last week and had not spoken or moved in any purposeful way since.
In a news conference Thursday, doctors called his condition “unresponsive wakefulness,” also known as persistent vegetative state, and revealed he had suffered significant brain damage during his imprisonment.
The North Korean government said Warmbier fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill in March 2016, but U.S. doctors said they found no evidence of the illness.
The family expressed anger at his treatment in North Korea.
“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,” the family said.
President Donald Trump expressed dismay at news of his death. He called North Korea a “brutal regime” and said Warmbier faced tough conditions while held there.
Warmbier signed up for a trip to North Korea in spring 2016 with the Young Pioneer Tours travel group. He was supposed to spend five days in North Korea followed by a visit to Beijing.
But as he tried to depart from Pyongyang’s airport, he was stopped in security.
According to the North Korean government, Warmbier was detained because he had stolen a political poster from a restricted floor in his hotel.
The next time the world saw Warmbier, he was distraught, breaking down in front of Korean journalists in a video released by North Korea in February of 2016.
He admitted to the crime and begged for forgiveness and for his release.
Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for his alleged crime. In the end, he spent 17 months in North Korea before he was released and returned to the United States by a medical aircraft.