Less than a week after being returned to the United States, American college student Otto Warmbier has died in an Ohio hospital. The news was confirmed by a statement released by the family.
In late 2015, Warmbier was travelling in China when he came across a company offering trips to North Korea. The company advertised that the trip was safe for American citizens, but that turned out not to be the case for Warmbier. Shortly into his stay, the North Korean government claims he stole a propaganda poster from a local hotel. Despite the family insisting the story was fabricated, North Korean authorities used it to arrest him just before he departed the country at the end of his trip.
From there, Warmbier was convicted of “hostile acts against the state” and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Despite American diplomatic efforts, attempts to get him released fell on deaf ears. Many feared the North Koreans were using the student to retaliate against American sanctions.
Last month, it was learned that President Trump had successfully negotiated the release of Warmbier after 17 months in captivity. However, it was revealed that shortly after his conviction, Warmbier fell ill and went into a coma. Physicians in the U.S. were able to evaluate his condition and cast doubt on North Korea’s explanation, but were unfortunately unable to save his life.
Otto Warmbier, the American college student who spent 17 months in detention in North Korea, died Monday afternoon in Cincinnati, Ohio, 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.
Following his return home, Warmbier’s father had harsh words for former President Obama.
From the Blaze:
Fred Warmbier said President Barack Obama’s administration urged his family to stay quiet after Otto’s arrest became known to the public. “Do I think the former administration could have done more? I think the results speak for themselves,” Fred Warmbier said during a news conference Wednesday. As of this time, former President Obama has not yet commented on this allegation.
At the same time, Fred Warmbier praised President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for their role in bringing home his son. “Last evening, we received a very nice phone call from President Trump, who told us that Secretary of State Tillerson worked hard to bring Otto home. We are extremely grateful for their efforts and concern,” Warmbier said.
Following Warmbier’s release, two additional U.S. citizens are also known to be held prisoner in North Korea. What negotiations are ongoing to secure their release is largely unknown.
The tragic ending comes as tensions continue to rise between North Korea and the United States. President Trump has increased the U.S. Naval presence in the region, attempting to deter the regime from continuing its nuclear weapons program. However, North Korea has continued to escalate hostilities.
Sadly, the tensions are adding to the complexity of negotiating the release of prisoners. Now, one of those prisoners is confirmed to have lost his life.
[Note: This post was authored by Michael Lee. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee]