Otto Warmbier, Student Returned by North Korea in Coma, Dies
A University of Virginia student held captive by North Korea and returned to the United States just days ago in an unresponsive state has died, his family said today.
Otto Warmbier, 22, who visited the communist regime as part of a tour group, was seized by North Korean officials on Jan. 2, 2016, before his flight was supposed to take off from Pyongyang. He was paraded before cameras the next month for a tearful "confession," admitting he took down a banner that was hanging in the hall of his hotel. "I made the worst mistake of my life," he said.
North Korea claimed the student took the poster as a "hostile act" to disturb DPRK unity at the behest of the CIA, a college group and a church in his home state of Ohio. He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor and reportedly fell into a coma shortly after his sentence began.
"It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home," the student's parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said in a statement. "Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20 p.m."
"It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost -- future time that won't be spend with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person."
The family thanked University of Cincinnati Medical Center personnel "who did everything they could for Otto," but "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."
When he was returned to the U.S., the parents added, he was unable to speak, see or respond to verbal commands. "He looked very uncomfortable -- almost anguished," they said. "Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed -- he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that."
"We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too."
At a Thursday press conference, Warmbier's doctors said he had suffered "extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain" consistent with oxygen deprivation seen in cardiac arrest, and was in "a state of unresponsive wakefulness." Doctors had not detected signs of physical abuse such as broken bones.
North Korea claims Warmbier wound up in a coma after suffering from botulism and taking a sleeping pill.