Former North Korea Detainee Otto Warmbier Dies At 22
OHIO (CNN) — Otto Warmbier, the college student who returned to the United States last week after 17 months of detention in North Korea, died Monday afternoon, 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. Warmbier did not talk, move in any purposeful way or respond to verbal communication. In a news conference last Thursday, doctors called his condition “unresponsive wakefulness,” and revealed he had suffered significant brain damage during his imprisonment.
The North Korean government said botulism is to blame for Warmbier’s condition, but US 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.”
In the spring of 2016, Warmbier signed up for a trip to North Korea with the Young Pioneer Tours travel group, a company that takes participants to places they wouldn’t normally go.
In pictures and videos from his time in North Korea, Warmbier can be seen smiling and enjoying himself.
One image taken during the trip shows Warmbier throwing a snowball and laughing.
“This is the Otto I know and love,” Warmbier’s brother Austin told CNN affiliate WCPO. “This is my brother.”
In total, the trip was supposed to last five days. Warmbier had plans to visit Beijing, China, after he left North Korea.
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 sneaked onto a restricted floor of his hotel and had stolen a political poster.
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. It’s not known whether his confession was voluntary.
For his alleged crime, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. In the end, he spent 17 months in North Korea before being released. He was taken by a medical aircraft to the US.