Otto Warmbier has sadly passed away at the age of 22 on June 19, his family said in a statement. The American college student was just released from North Korea after a year as a hostage, and returned home in a coma after suffering severe brain damage.
Otto Warmbier, 22, had just returned home to his family last week from a year spent in detainment in North Korea. The University of Virginia student had been held hostage in the country since March 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from an employees-only floor of his hotel in the capital, Pyongyang. Sometime during his detainment, Otto suffered severe brain damage — North Korea officials attributed it to a combination of botulism and the effects of a sleeping pill. Otto was in a coma for most of his time in North Korea, and returned home with the inability to speak, see, or respond to verbal commands. It’s unclear what Otto died of this time.
His family released a passionate, heartbreaking statement about his death:
“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 2:20pm.
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. 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.
We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.
When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. 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.
We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too.”
Otto was arrested on January 2, 2016 as a tourist in North Korea before starting a study abroad semester in China. He tearfully confessed at a news conference to taking the sign as a “trophy” to “harm” the North Korean people. It was suspected that he confessed under pressure. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but was instead medically evacuated from the country on June 13. His family only found out days before his release that he had been in a coma for almost a year, the majority of his time detained. While North Korean officials stand by their story that he contracted botulism, but Otto’s doctors in the United States don’t believe it.
His doctors in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, called his condition a “state of unresponsive wakefulness.” They determined that he suffered “respiratory distress,” cutting off the oxygen supply to his brain. Otto could open his eyes and blink, but didn’t respond to language commands. His arms and legs were atrophied. Doctors did not publicly speculate on how Otto came to be in a coma, but noted that they didn’t find any traces of botulism in his body. Otto arrived home with two disks showing medical scans taken in North Korea. Disturbingly, there were only two scans, and the last was taken in July 2016 — nearly a year ago.
UPDATE: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump issued a statement on Otto’s death:
“Melania and I offer our deepest condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier on his untimely passing. 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.”
HollywoodLifers, our thoughts are with the Warmbier family during this difficult time.