Otto Warmbier, American student freed by North Korea, dies at 22

Last Updated Jun 19, 2017 5:29 PM EDT

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was freed from North Korean custody last week, has died, his family confirms. He was 22.

The Warmbier family said in a statement that he died surrounded by loved ones at 2:20 p.m. on Monday.

“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,” the family said in a statement. 

American student Otto Warmbier is presented to reporters on Feb. 29, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea, following his arrest.

AP

Warmbier was detained in January 2016 while visiting North Korea at the end of a five-day tour. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign at his hotel.

He was in a coma when he was sent home to the U.S. last week. A spokesperson with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said he had suffered a “severe neurological injury.”

“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that,” the family said.

His father, Fred Warmbier, said he does not believe North Korea’s explanation that the coma resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill. He said there was no reason for North Korea to keep his son’s condition a secret and deny him top medical care.

In its first official comment since Warmbier had returned home, North Korea said it released him for humanitarian reasons.

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