The student had been detained by North Korean authorities for 17 months. He had suffered severe brain damage during his captivity.
The family thanked the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for treating 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," they said in a statement.
Dr. Daniel Kanter, the director of neurocritical care for the University of Cincinnati Health system described Warmbier's state as one of "unresponsive wakefulness". Other doctors said that Warmbier had suffered "severe neurological injury", with an extensive loss of brain tissue. He did not seem aware of his surroundings, in spite of his open and blinking eyes.
DPRK authorities claimed that the brain damage was caused by botulism, a disease usually caused by consuming rotten food or getting filth inside an open wound. American doctors found no evidence of the disease. However, there also was no sign of fractures that would indicate that he was beaten during his captivity. Instead, his neurological injuries are consistent with oxygen deprivation. He had also suffered "profound weakness and contraction" in his muscles and limbs.
BREAKING: 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, U.S. student released from North Korea last week, has passed away, his family says. pic.twitter.com/PrsDcrjnPL— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 19, 2017
Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, traveled to China as part of a study abroad program. A Chinese travel company offered trips to North Korea, which appealed to Warmbier, described as "thrill-seeking" by his father Fred. But when Warmbier attempted to leave the DPRK in January 2016, he was detained and accused of anti-state activities: taking a propaganda banner as a souvenir. The North Koreans claimed that he did this as part of an initiation ritual into a secret society, under the direction of the US government. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
The Trump administration placed intense pressure on Pyongyang to release Warmbier when they learned of his condition.
"He was generous, outgoing, sweet, smart as a whip; just an overall good guy," said Danica White, Warmbier's high school English teacher.