Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student who was released from imprisonment in North Korea in a coma, has died

By Erin Hill
June 19, 2017 04:38 PM

Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student who was released from imprisonment in North Korea in a coma, has died, his family said Monday.

“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 read.

“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,” the statement continued. “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 — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.”

The University of Virginia student was sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labor for allegedly stealing a political propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel in January 2016.

He returned home to Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 13 in a coma after being “brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime,” his family said at the time.


“We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto,” Monday’s statement read. “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 received today.

“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13 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.

“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.”

In a statement, President Donald Trump said: “Melania and I offer our deepest condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier on his untimely passing. There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him.

“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. The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”

Warmbier traveled to North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours, a Chinese company which markets itself as providing “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” He was planning to be in the country for a five-day stay before flying to Beijing to participate in a 10-day tour, sponsored by UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, of two Asian financial capitals: Hong Kong and Singapore.

But he was arrested on Jan. 2, 2016, while trying to board a plane out of North Korea. He was charged with “hostile acts against the state” after allegedly attempting to take down a large propaganda sign lauding the regime at his hotel in Pyongyang.

Reading from a prepared statement at a press event before his trial, Warmbier told reporters that he should never “have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country.”

He added: “I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”


During his trial in March 2016, he delivered a tearful confession, saying: “The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people.”

He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, told CNN in early May that they had had no contact with their son for more than a year. He was due to graduate from UVA this spring.

Since last March, the U.S. had been pressing North Korea to allow Swedish officials, who act as interlocutors between Washington and Pyongyang, to see the Americans who have been detained in the country, a senior State Department official told CNN. North Koreans reportedly agreed to authorize the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to pay a consular visit to all four detainees, according to the State Department — but it is unclear if they were ever able to conduct that visit.

Then in May, North Korean officials asked for an emergency meeting with the United States in New York City, the State Department said, according to ABC News. State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun met with DPRK UN Mission Ambassador Pak in New York City. During this meeting, Yun learned that Warmbier was in a coma.

RELATED VIDEO: Former Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson on the Death of Otto Warmbier: ‘I’m Very Sad, but at the Same Time Angry’

After consulting President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson instructed Yun to prepare to travel to North Korea to bring Warmbier back to the United States, according to the State Department, which organized a medical team and an airplane to travel to North Korea.

North Korea told a US official that Warmbier contracted botulism and slipped into the coma after taking a sleeping pill.

When he arrived in Ohio, he was transported by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where doctors discovered he had “severe injury to all regions of the brain” and described his current condition as “unresponsive wakefulness.”

Doctors have little information about what happened to him prior to his release as they’ve had no contact with North Korean medical authorities. But they said Warmbier showed no current signs of botulism.

Fred Warmbier
Bill Pugliano/Getty

In a tearful press conference on June 15, Warmbier’s father, Fred, said there’s “no excuse” for North Korea’s treatment of his son, adding that he fell to his knees and hugged him when he was carried off a plane on Tuesday night.

“We’ve been brutalized over the last 18 months with misinformation, no information,” he said. “We are proud of the fact that our family is basically happy, positive people and we’re going to stay that way and we’re thrilled our son is on American soil.”

“Otto, I love you and I’m so crazy about you, I’m so glad you’re home, you are such a great guy,” he continued. “My family has been rock solid throughout this, we have supported one another.”