“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., his family said in a statement.
“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 continues. “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 in a statement.
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.
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 intothe 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.
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.”