22-Y-O American Otto Warmbier Dies After Spending 17 Months in North Korean Prison

Reuters/KyodoOtto Warmbier was detained in North Korea for "hostile acts against the state."

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was imprisoned by North Korea for over 17 months and was released last week while in a coma, has died, his family announced Monday.

Warmbier, a 22-year-old Ohio native who originally traveled to North Korea to take part in a tour offered by a Chinese company in 2015, was arrested by regime officials at the airport as he attempted to leave the country in January 2016. He was arrested on charges that he tried to steal a sign featuring former dictator Kim Jong Il.

Warmbier was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison in March 2016 and it is believed that he fell into a coma shortly after that. Warmbier was released by the North Korean government and he was flown home and hospitalized in Cincinnati last week.

Last Thursday, doctors announced that Warmbier had suffered severe brain damage and that he was unresponsive. One doctor said that his condition could be "best described as unresponsive wakefulness."

"It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home," 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 spent 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. You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family."

The family also thanked the doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for doing all they could to help their son.

"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 parents stated. "When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. 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."

Although the North Korean government claims that Warmbier's coma was a result of botulism and a sleeping pill, his family does not buy that excuse.

(Screengrab: YouTube / PBS NewsHour)Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, speaks about his son's imprisonment in North Korea during a press conference in Wyoming, Ohio on June 15, 2017.

"Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma, and we don't, there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and deny him top-notch medical care for so long," Fred Warmbier told reporters during a press conference last week.

"North Korea is a pariah regime, they are brutal and they are terroristic," he added. "You can't believe anything ... We don't believe anything they say. We see the results of their actions with Otto."

Even though there is no hard evidence to show that North Korean officials had beaten or tortured Warmbier, doctors said that Warmbier showed no signs of having botulism. Additionally, Warmbier suffered extensive loss of brain tissue that suggests that he lost blood supply to his brain for an extended period of time.

According to The Washington Post, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center doctors said that Warmbier's condition is consistent with the signs of cardiopulmonary arrest and there is nothing from Warmbier's past medical history from before he went to North Korea that would have caused such an arrest.

However, Jordan Bonomo, a neurointensivist and emergency medicine physician at University of Cincinnati Health, said that one of the most common causes of cardiopulmonary arrest is respiratory arrest, which could be triggered by intoxication or traumatic injury.

Bonomo added that it is possible to have respiratory arrest resulting from an overdose of medication.

"He was kind, generous and accomplished," Sen. Rob Portman, R- Ohio, said in a statement after Warmbier's passing. "He had all the talent you could ever ask for and a bright future ahead of him. His passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us."

Commenting on Warmbier's death, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in a statement that "this horrendous situation further underscores the evil, oppressive nature of the North Korean regime that has such disregard for human life."

President Donald Trump also issued a statement.

"Otto's fate deepens my Administration's determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency," Trump stated. "The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim."

The North Korean government is still holding three American citizens in prison.

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