CINCINNATI, OH — Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old Ohio college student who was held in North Korea for 17 months before being released just last Tuesday, has died.
Warmbier suffered a devastating brain injury while being held prisoner and was in an unresponsive state when released by North Korean officials and flown home to the United States.
On Monday, his family paid tribute to Warmbier 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 family’s 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 to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.”
The family also thanked “the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto.”
In a statement, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called Warmbier a “promising young man.”
“He was kind, generous and accomplished,” Portman said. “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. Jane and I are lifting up the Warmbier family in our prayers at this difficult time, and we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of this remarkable young Ohioan.”
In a statement from The White House, President Donald Trump sent his condolences to Warmbier’s family and condemned the North Korean regime.
“Melania and I offer our deepest condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier on his untimely passing,” said the president. “There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him.
“Otto’s fate deepens my Administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency. The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said late Monday that the United States holds North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un directly accountable for Warbier’s death.
“We hold North Korea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment, and demand the release of three other Americans who have been illegally detained,” said Tillerson.
Warmbier had gone to North Korea as a tourist on his way to Hong Kong for a study abroad program, but was stopped when he tried to leave the country. At trial, North Korean officials accused him of trying to steal a poster as he left the country. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
The North Korean government says it played no role in Warbier’s death and says the student fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill in March 2016. US doctors say they found no evidence to back up these claims.