This story has been updated to reflect current events. See the preceding article here.
UVa student Otto Warmbier has passed away less than one week after returning to the United States from North Korea.
Warmbier, 22 years of age, was detained by North Korea in January of 2016 after allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from a restricted area of the hotel he was staying in. The American was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a public hearing two months later. This would be the last time that Warmbier would be seen by Americans as a responsive, living human being.
Otto was held in North Korea for 17 months and arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio in a comatose state last Tuesday. His evacuation followed negotiations between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and international officials.
UVa Beta Bridge painted for Otto’s homecoming; Photo credits: Sam Barglof
Warmbier experienced “unresponsive wakefulness” as Daniel Kanter, the director of the neurocritical care program at the University of Cincinnati, explained in a news conference last week. His condition revealed damage to every region of the brain and resulted in a persistent vegetative state.
While Otto’s parents have not announced a specific cause of their son’s death, they condemned the brutality of the North Korean regime.
“The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible,” said the Warmbiers in a statement released on Monday.
The family has been grateful for the brief amount of time they were able to spend with Otto in the United States prior to his passing.
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands,” the Warmbiers stated. “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.”
A coroner’s office in Otto’s home state has accepted his case and will conduct an external examination to further investigate what the American endured in North Korea.
Warmbier’s funeral will take place on Thursday morning at his high school in Wyoming, Ohio. UVa Student Council held a candlelight vigil in honor of Otto on Tuesday and is planning another event for the fall once all students are back on grounds.
This is a developing story. Further details will be provided.