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US Student Imprisoned in North Korea Dies

  • VOA News

FILE - American student Otto Warmbier speaks as he is presented to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 29, 2016.

Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a-half, has died, his family announced Monday afternoon.

Warmbier was returned to the United States last week in a coma. Doctors in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio said the 22-year-old had suffered severe brain damage while in North Korea, but that it was not clear what caused it.

North Korea said Warmbier fell into a coma soon after he was sentenced in March of last year for stealing a political poster from a North Korean hotel. The government claimed the young man fell into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.

But the Warmbier family heatedly disputed that claim, saying North Korea had "brutalized" Otto.

"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 following Warmbier's death at 2:20 p.m. ET at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday offered his condolences to the family.

"There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life," he said in a written statement. Trump said the death deepens his determination to prevent future tragedies "at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.''

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Warmbier's death will be a lasting reminder of "the barbaric nature of the North Korean leadership."

Ohio Governor John Kasich said "all Ohioans mourn" Warmbier's death. He, too, lashed out at Pyongyang saying, "This horrendous situation further underscores the evil, oppressive nature of the North Korean regime."

Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who worked to free Warmbier, called him a "promising young man," and said "his passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us."

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been heightened by dozens of North Korean missile launches and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year.

U.S. officials have said they are concerned about three Korean-Americans who remain held in North Korea. There are also at least six South Koreans believed to be in custody as well.

South Korea on Tuesday said it will make every effort for the quick return of both its detainees and the U.S. citizens being held in North Korea.

The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using the detainees as political pawns. North Korea accuses the United States and South Korea of sending spies to overthrow its government.

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