Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student who was a prisoner of North Korea for 17 months, died Tuesday, according to a statement from his family. Warmbier was released last week and returned to the U.S. in a coma. Warmbier’s medical staff at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said that he had suffered severe brain damage, and was unresponsive.
“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 read. “But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.”
It added, “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.”
Warmbier was on a tour of North Korean capital Pyongyang on New Year’s Eve in 2015 when he was arrested. The University of Virginia student allegedly went to a prohibited part of a hotel and tried to steal a propaganda poster. In an hour-long trial, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
“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 statement continued. “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.”
Ohio Senator Rob Portman — who had worked to free Warmbier, according to the Washington Post Tuesday — also released a statement.
“He was kind, generous and accomplished. 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,” said Portman.
North Korea claimed that Warmbier contracted a case of botulism and then was given a sleeping pill and never woke up. Medical staff from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said that Warmbier was in a coma for at least a year, but found no evidence of botulism.
North Korea still has three American prisoners.
Warmbier’s death comes at a time amid heightened tensions between North Korea and the U.S. North Korea has conducted numerous missile tests this year, and President Donald Trump has threatened that all options are on the table with North Korea.
Trump released a statement about Warmbier Tuesday afternoon.
“[There] is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life,” the statement read. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”