An American college student who spent more than a year in a North Korean prison – reportedly for taking down a propaganda poster – died Monday, less than a week after returning to the U.S. in a coma.
Otto Warmbier's parents announced their son died while surrounded by family at a Cincinnati hospital Monday. Warmbier, 22, was from the town of Wyoming, Ohio, and attended the University of Virginia.
What his parents said
Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in their statement that instead of focusing on all the time they will not get to spend with Otto in the future, "we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person."
They thanked the doctors in Cincinnati who treated Otto but said "Unfortunately, the awful torturous treatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans" meant his death couldn't be prevented.
While North Korean doctors had said Warmbier fell into a coma after a case of botulism (a kind of food poisoning), the medical staff in Cincinnati said he had severe brain damage.
He couldn't see or speak during his final days, but the Warmbiers say that once he got back to Ohio the look on Otto's face changed from an almost anguished one to a peaceful one. "He was home and we believe he could sense that," they said.
Response from political leaders
President Trump expressed condolences to the Warmbier family Monday, adding: "The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim."
A similar statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said "We hold North Korea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment" and demanded the release of three other Americans the U.S. says are being illegally detained in North Korea.
Tour group not going back to North Korea
Warmbier was arrested in January of 2016 as he was getting ready to leave North Korea. The following month he was convicted after an hour-long trial of trying to steal a propaganda poster, the New York Times reports, and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
He had traveled to North Korea through a group called Young Pioneer Tours. That group, which is based in China, told NK News Monday they will no longer send U.S. citizens to North Korea. “The way his detention was handled was appalling, and a tragedy like this must never be repeated,” they told the North Korean news service.