U.S. student held prisoner by North Korea dies days after release

Tue Jun 20, 2017 3:04pm EDT
 
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By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) - An American university student held prisoner in North Korea for 17 months died at a Cincinnati hospital on Monday, just days after he was released from captivity in a coma, his family said.

Otto Warmbier, 22, who was arrested in North Korea while visiting as a tourist, 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.

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.   Continued...

 
FILE PHOTO - Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016.        Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo/File Photo