Otto Warmbier dead: American student imprisoned in North Korea dies after being returned to US in coma

He was imprisoned after allegedly trying to steal a North Korea propaganda banner

The moment US student Otto Warmbier stole poster of 'Kim Jong il' in North Korea

Otto Warmbier, the American student who had been detained in North Korea, has died his family has said.

Mr Warmbier was transferred back to the United States after over a year in North Korean captivity. He had been sentenced to 15 years hard labour after he was caught trying to take a propaganda banner from North Korea for someone back home in exchange for a used car and to impress a semi-secret society he wanted to join. He was transferred back to the US in a coma, but had showed signs of severe neurological decline.

"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 2:20 p.m," the Warmbier family said 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. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person", they wrote.

Mr Warmbier's parents, Fred and Cindy, said in a statement after his release that they had been told their son had been in a coma since March 2016, and that they had only learned that he was in that state weeks ago.

Mr Warmbier has been described as a bright and promising young man with an intense curiosity about the world. He was 21 when he was taken prisoner by the North Koreans. He was a college student who, if he was not taken prisoner and life had gone to plan, would currently be in his first month as a new graduate of the University of Virginia.

The young man from outside of Cincinnati planned on studying abroad during his third year of college in China, which is how he ended up taking a trip to North Korea. While researching his studies in China, Mr Warmbier found out about Chinese companies that offer trips to North Korea. His parents were okay with his decision to go.

Mr Warmbier's trial was broadcast on international news channels. In the trail, Mr Warmbier pleaded with North Korean officials to have pity on him. At first he was calm, and then he choked up, fell to tears, and pleaded desperately for help.

"I've made the worst mistake of my life!" he said.

He was still sent to prison, on charges of "perpetrating a hostile act against" the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It remains unclear if his admission of guilt was forced, and whether he actually tried to remove the propaganda banner during his trip.

The US government warns against travel to North Korea, but stops short of outright banning it. The country is clearly labelled as a dangerous place for Americans, even though almost every traveller to the country returns unscathed. The volatile nature of the country however, means that quite a few have been detained for shorter periods of time for seemingly small infractions.

There are three Americans who remain in North Korean custody.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments