Otto Warmbier, the US student released in a coma last week after nearly 18 months in detention in North Korea, has died, leading President Donald Trump to decry the “brutal regime” in Pyongyang.
The 22-year-old was medically evacuated to the United States on Tuesday last week, suffering from severe brain damage. He died six days later surrounded by relatives in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible,” the family said in a statement announcing Otto’s death.
The young man was on a tourist trip when he was arrested and sentenced in March last year to 15 years hard labour for stealing a political poster from a North Korean hotel, a punishment the United States decried as far out of proportion to his alleged crime.
Trump lashed out at Pyongyang following news of his death, while voicing compassion for his family.
“It’s a brutal regime,” he said during a White House event. “Bad things happened but at least we got him home to his parents.”
In a separate statement, Trump said, “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.”
Doctors last week revealed that Otto had suffered severe neurological injuries, and described him as being in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness,” opening his eyes and blinking, but showing no signs of understanding language or of being aware of his surroundings.
His family said yesterday that he first appeared anguished when he first arrived home, but died “at peace.”
Kim Jong-Un’s regime said Warmbier fell into a coma soon after he was sentenced last year, claiming the college student had contracted botulism and been given a sleeping pill.
Medical tests carried out last week in the United States offered no conclusive evidence as to the cause of his neurological injuries, and no evidence of a prior botulism infection. Warmbier’s doctors said he had suffered extensive tissue loss in all regions of his brain, but showed no signs of physical trauma.
They said Warmbier’s severe brain injury was most likely — given his young age — to have been caused by cardiopulmonary arrest cutting the blood supply to the brain.
Warmbier’s release came amid mounting tension between Pyongyang and the US. Pyongyang has been conducting a series of missile tests and focusing on an arms buildup that the Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has dubbed as “a clear and present danger to all.”
Three more US citizens are currently being held by North Korea, including two men who taught at a Pyongyang university funded by overseas Christian groups, and a Korean-American pastor who was accused of espionage for the South.
(With inputs from agencies)