American college student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for more than 17 months, returned home Tuesday in a coma after being “brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime,” according to his family.
“Otto has left North Korea. He is on Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement.
They’re “so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him.”
The 22-year-old, who was charged with “hostile acts against the state” after allegedly attempting to take down a large propaganda sign lauding the regime in Jan. 2016, is currently being treated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The family was told that after his March 2016 trial he contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill that put him in a coma, according to The Washington Post.
Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It usually starts with weakness of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth and throat and can lead to difficulty breathing and even death.
North Korea accursed Warmbier of committing “hostile acts” against the regime after they said they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner that contained a political slogan that was hanging from the walls of his hotel in Pyongyang, CNN reports.
The last time Warmbier was seen publicly was at his hour-long trial in March 2016, where he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.