Otto Warmbier, the former University of Virginia student who returned home to the U.S. last week after spending more than a year imprisoned in North Korea, died on Monday afternoon, his family announced.
“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 in a statement.
Warmbier landed in the U.S. on June 13 unable to speak, see or react to verbal commands, the statement added. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center characterized his state as one of “unresponsive wakefulness,” they said on Thursday.
North Korea also sent MRI images of Warmbier’s brain, dated April 2016. The photos indicated his injury likely occurred before the scans were taken ― meaning he had been suffering since the beginning of his imprisonment.
The Wyoming, Ohio, native was in North Korea with a tour group when he was detained for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March of 2016 after a tear-filled confession on camera in a North Korean courtroom. The White House and human rights groups condemned Warmbier’s imprisonment, calling for his immediate release.
“Otto’s a young, thrill-seeking, great kid who was going to be in that part of the world for a college experience,” his father, Fred Warmbier, told the Associated Press.
He would have been in UVA’s 2017 graduating class had he returned from North Korea safely. “UVA will not forget one of our own,” university President Teresa Sullivan tweeted.
Rest In Peace, Otto Warmbier. Thank goodness your family had a little time with you before the end. You'll always be a part of @UVA.
— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) June 19, 2017
Intelligence reports suggested that Warmbier had been beaten so badly while in custody that there were fears he had died, a U.S. intelligence official told The New York Times.
President Donald Trump directed the State Department to secure Warmbier’s release, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week. North Korea said they released Warmbier for what they called “humanitarian reasons.”
North Korea is still holding at least three U.S. citizens, two of whom were detained in 2017. Both Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song had spent time working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before they were arrested this year, while businessman Kim Dong-chul was detained on charges of espionage in 2015.
Nick Robins-Early contributed reporting.
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