An American student who was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months where fell into a coma has died only days after being returned to his home.
Otto Warmbier, 22, died at a Cincinnati hospital on Monday and had been described by doctors caring for him last week as having extensive brain damage that left him in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.”
“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,” the family said in a statement after Warmbier’s death at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT).
His family has said that Warmbier lapsed into a coma in March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea.
He was arrested in North Korea while visiting as a tourist.
Physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he died, said last Thursday that Warmbier showed no sign of understanding language or awareness of his surroundings, and had made no “purposeful movements or behaviors,” though he was breathing on his own.
There was no immediate word from Warmbier’s family on the cause of his death.
The circumstances of his detention in North Korea and what medical treatment he may have received there remained a mystery, but relatives have said his condition suggested that he had been physically abused by his captors.
The University of Virginia student and Ohio native was arrested, according to North Korean media, for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan.
North Korea released Warmbier last week and said he was being freed “on humanitarian grounds.”
The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not available for comment on Monday.
US President Donald Trump issued a statement offering condolences to the Warmbier family and denouncing “the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
The president drew criticism in May when he said he would be “honored” to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The student’s father, Fred Warmbier, said last week that his son had been “brutalized and terrorized by the Pyongyang government and that the family disbelieved North Korea’s story that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.
Doctors who examined Otto Warmbier after his release said there was no sign of botulism in his system.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said North Korea should swiftly return South
Koreans and Americans detained in the reclusive nation and that it had “a heavy responsibility” in the death of a US university student.
Three other US citizens, who are ethnic Koreans, and six South Koreans remain in custody in North Korea.
In an interview with CBS News, Moon said that while “we cannot know for sure that North Korea killed Mr. Warmbier … I believe it is quite clear that they have a heavy responsibility in the process that led to Mr. Warmbier’s death.”
“I believe we must now have the perception that North Korea is an irrational regime,” Moon told the CBS television network.
South Korea’s Blue House on Tuesday cited Moon separately as saying: “It is very deplorable that North Korea does not respect human rights.”
The South Korean government will make every effort for the return of those held in North Korea, presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun told a briefing.
Korean-Americans Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song, who worked at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, were recently detained for hostile acts against the government, according to North Korea’s state media.
In March 2016, Kim Dong Chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American missionary, was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for subversion.
North Korea is also holding Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim. He was charged with subversion and given a hard-labor life sentence in 2015.
Three South Korean nationals were detained in North Korea during their missionary work since 2013, and the remaining three South Koreans are North Korean defectors who returned and are in custody, a lawmaker briefed by the South Korean spy agency told reporters last week.
Dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year have heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
Pyongyang continued to test-fire missiles since South Korean leader Moon took office pledging to engage in dialogue with North Korea.