American student freed from North Korean custody last week has died

CINCINNATI, OHIO (CNN) – 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.


When Warmbier was returned to his family June 13, he was unable to speak, see, or react to verbal commands, a statement from Warmbier’s family released Monday read.

“He looked very uncomfortable- almost anguished,” the statement read. “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.”

Warmbier was treated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after returning to the U.S. Last week, doctors caring for Warmbier said that he suffered from a condition they described as “unresponsive wakefulness” or persistent vegetative state. The syndrome’s symptoms included no voluntary movement or awareness of surroundings. Warmbier was able to open his eyes and blink spontaneously but showed no signs of understanding language or responding to verbal commands.

The 22-year-old suffered extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain.
The news shed light on the Warmbier family’s statement that their son suffered severe brain damage at some point in his 17 months of detention.
His parents said they learned of their son’s condition — what North Korea called a coma — only last week. Last week, Warmbier’s father said he rejected the regime’s explanation that his son fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill in March 2016 after his trial for trying to steal a political banner.
The doctors said they had no information about the care he received in North Korea. Though they could not say with certainty what caused his injuries, they found no evidence to support the botulism claim. But an analysis of images from North Korea of Warmbier’s brain dated April 2016 suggested the injury occurred in the preceding weeks.
The pattern of brain injury seen in Warmbier’s case is usually seen as result of cardiopulmonary arrest where blood supply to (the) brain is inadequate for a period of time, resulting in the death of brain tissue, Dr. Daniel Kanter, professor of neurology and director of the Neurocritical Care Program at the University of Cincinnati said in a Thursday press conference.

Warmbier was a student at the University of Virginia when he was detained at the Pyongyang airport on his way home from a tour of North Korea in  Jan. 2016.

North Korean authorities claimed they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan that was hanging from a wall of his Pyongyang hotel.

That was used as evidence in his hourlong trial. He was found guilty of committing a “hostile act” against the country and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor. It was the last time he was seen publicly before this week. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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