US student freed by North Korea dies

In this March 16, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea. Warmbier, whose parents say has been in a coma while serving a 15-year prison term in North Korea, was released and returned to the United States Tuesday, June 13, 2017, as the Trump administration revealed a rare exchange with the reclusive country. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)
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CINCINNATI — Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was released by North Korea in a coma last week, died Monday afternoon. He was 22.

The family announced his death in a statement released by UC Health Systems, saying, "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."

The family thanked the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for treating him but said, "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."

They said they were choosing to focus on the time they were given with their "warm, engaging, brilliant" son instead of focusing on what they had lost.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor in North Korea, convicted of subversion after he tearfully confessed he had tried to steal a propaganda banner.

The University of Virginia student was held for more than 17 months and medically evacuated from North Korea last week. Doctors said he returned with severe brain damage, but it wasn't clear what caused it.

In this Feb. 29, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier speaks as he is presented to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. More than 15 months after he gave a staged confession in North Korea, he is with his Ohio family again. But whether he is even aware of that is uncertain. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon, File)

Parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier told The Associated Press in a statement the day of his release that they wanted "the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime " and expressed relief he had been returned to "finally be with people who love him."

He was taken by Medivac to Cincinnati, where he grew up in suburban Wyoming. He was salutatorian of his 2013 class at the highly rated high school, and was on the soccer team among other activities.

Ohio's U.S. senators sharply criticized North Korea soon after his release.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of the Cincinnati area said North Korea should be "universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior." Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Cleveland said the country's "despicable actions ... must be condemned." Portman added that the Warmbiers have "had to endure more than any family should have to bear."

Three Americans remain held in North Korea. The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses Washington and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.


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