Family announces death of U.Va. student who had been imprisoned for 17 months in DPRK

Original:  The Cavalier Daily,  June 19, 2017

Former University student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for over a year, died Monday afternoon at 2:20 p.m. surrounded by family.

After 17 months of imprisonment in North Korea, Warmbier was released from the isolated country last Tuesday — but returned to the United States in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.” Doctors said he had suffered a severe loss of brain tissue.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier. released a statement to the Washington Post Monday thanking the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for doing everything they could to help their son while recognizing the “awful torturous mistreatment” he received in North Korea.

“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished,” the statement read. “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.”

Warmbier was detained in North Korea in January 2016 and was accused of attempting to steal a political banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang. In March of the same year he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

At the University, Warmbier was a member of the Theta Chi Fraternity and an Echols Scholar. A Commerce student at the time of his imprisonment, Warmbier would have graduated this past spring. Graduates noted his absence with #FreeOtto stickers at Final Exercises in May.

“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,” his parents said in the statement.

University President Teresa Sullivan expressed her condolences in a statement Monday afternoon.

“It is with great sadness that we learned of Otto’s passing this afternoon,” Sullivan said. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with his family and friends during what has been an incredibly difficult time. He will be missed by all those who knew and loved him.”

President Donald Trump also released a statement expressing his condolences to Warmbier’s family and friends. He condemned North Korea in his statement.

“Otto’s fate deepens my Administration’s determination to prevent such tragedy from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” Trump said in a statement. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”

Governor Terry McAuliffe tweeted his condolences Monday afternoon.

Our hearts go out to the Warmbier family, the @UVA community, and all the people whose lives Otto touched. He was taken too soon.

The Korean Student Union posted a statement on Facebook Monday evening expressing its condolences and offering support to the University community.

“This is a situation that greatly saddens us and forces many of us to remember the lasting effects that North Korea and its regime has had on our friends and our families,” the statement read. “The division between North and South Korea has separated loved ones for centuries and forced many innocent people to succumb to communist rule. It is important to recognize and reflect on how our beliefs and our choices have come to perpetuate this same regime and that there are still people experiencing, daily, similar unimaginable levels of brutality that Otto did.”

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Student Council also issued a response and will hold a vigil Tuesday, June 20, at 9 p.m. at the Rotunda.

“The thoughts and prayers of the University of Virginia Student Body are with the Warmbier family and all those who loved Otto,” the statement read.

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