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Otto Warmbier's Death Sparks Outrage in US

  • VOA Staff

The parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died Monday after being detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a-half, said in a statement he had "completed his journey home" and was "at peace" shortly before passing away.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday offered his condolences to the family, saying in a written statement, "There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life." Trump called the North Korean government "a brutal regime" and 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" the death of Warmbier, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. 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."

FILE - Denise Koesterman, right, and Alison Lebrun, left, tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons along Springfield Pike near the family home of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea.
FILE - Denise Koesterman, right, and Alison Lebrun, left, tie blue-and-white awareness ribbons along Springfield Pike near the family home of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea.

Returned in coma

Warmbier was returned to the United States last week in a coma. Doctors in Cincinnati 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 treatment 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 statement said.

American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor on Wednesday.
American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor on Wednesday.

Tensions heightened

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 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.

The organizers of Warmbier's trip to North Korea say they will no longer take U.S. citizens to the country. Young Pioneer Tours posted on its Facebook page Tuesday that Warmbier's death indicates the risk of American tourists face in North Korea "has become too high."

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