Otto Warmbier, American Student Held Captive in North Korea, Dies After Returning Home in a Coma

Warmbier is half-carried by North Korean officials into his trial. Image via AP.

Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student held prisoner in North Korea for a year and a half, has died, his family announced on Monday afternoon. Warmbier was released from a North Korean prison and sent back to the United States in a coma last week, which North Korean authorities bizarrely blamed on him having contracted botulism, then receiving a sleeping pill. Warmbier never regained consciousness after his return to the U.S.

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was in North Korea with a Chinese tour company called Young Pioneer when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for allegedly stealing a poster. Warmbier had to be virtually carried into his sentencing by two uniformed officers. The Swedish embassy, which handles American diplomatic interests in North Korea, said in April that they were still trying to learn Warmbier’s exact location and that they had been unable to visit him or learn anything about his physical condition.


Warmbier was medically evacuated from the country a week ago. Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor who served as a negotiator with North Korea, said he had been in a coma for over a year. Despite North Korea’s claims that he was comatose as a result of botulism, American officials told the New York Times it was much more likely that he had been severely beaten.

Warmbier’s parents Fred and Cindy issued a statement mourning their son and thanking the medical professionals who tried to safe his life.

It’s unclear how Donald Trump will respond to the torturing death of an American citizen at the hands of an autocratic and brutal regime, or whether he’ll be able to tear his eyes away from tweeting about his poll numbers long enough to make a statement.

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About the author

Anna Merlan

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.

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