Otto Warmbier, the American student who was in a coma after his release from captivity in North Korea, has died, his family said in a statement.
"It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home," read a statement signed by his parents, Fred and Cindy. "Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day of the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace," they wrote. "He was home and we believe he could sense that."
The North Korean government said the University of Virginia student, who was held for 17 months, fell into a coma after contracting botulism and ingesting a sleeping pill. But doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center have disputed this assessment and said there was "no evidence" of "active botulism."
North Korea detained Warmbier in January 2016 after he was accused of a "hostile act" while on a group tour of the reclusive and rogue state. Warmbier was accused of stealing a poster at his hotel in Pyongyang, and after a short trial, Warmbier read a prepared statement and cried. He was sentenced to 15 years of prison and hard labor.
A statement from President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump offered their condolences to the Warmbier family. "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 statement read.
On Monday Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that what happened to Warmbier is "a disgrace."
"It's a disgrace what happened to Otto," he said according to pool reporters. "It's a total disgrace what happened to Otto. It should never, ever be allowed to happen. And frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different."
Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a harsher tone, promising to "hold North Korea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment" and demanding the release of three other Americans currently detained in North Korea.
And Sen. John McCain went farther.
"Let us state the facts plainly: Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime," the Arizona Republican said in a statement. "In the final year of his life, he lived the nightmare in which the North Korean people have been trapped for 70 years: forced labor, mass starvation, systematic cruelty, torture, and murder."
The Hamilton County Coroner’s office in Ohio will not conduct an autopsy on Warmbier's body, they said in a statement on Tuesday, in accordance with his family's wishes. On Monday, a spokesperson for the coroner's office said had accepted the case.
The Coroner conducted an external examination, looked at Warmbier's medical records, and spoke to the doctor who tended to Warmbier at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center before his death on Monday, a spokesperson told WCPO Cincinnati. They have not reached a conclusion about his cause of death, but told reporters they plan to continue their investigation without an autopsy.
According to his doctors — who said they were unaware of the treatment he received in prison — brain scans sent from North Korea in April 2016 indicated that a brain injury likely occurred weeks prior.
Warmbier was released last Tuesday and was immediately taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where doctors later said he was unresponsive to verbal cues and had not spoken.
"Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma — and we don't — there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long," Warmbier's father, Fred Warmbier, said at a press conference last Thursday.
Warmbier's father, Fred, also said that he had only recently learned that his son was in a coma for nearly his entire imprisonment.
"There's no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son and no excuse for the way they have treated so many others," Fred said.
In their statement Monday, the Warmbier family said they would not dwell on what they had lost, but instead focus on the time they'd had with their son.
"We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers," the statement read. "We are at peace and at home too."
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
Contact Talal Ansari at email@example.com.
Nidhi Prakash is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York
Contact Nidhi Prakash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.