Otto Warmbier, a 21 year-old American held in North Korea and released mere days ago, has died.
Warmbier’s family and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center made announcements of his death late Monday afternoon.
The Wyoming, Ohio native was arrested at the Pyongyang airport in North Korea in January 2016. He was accused of stealing a sign, charged with “anti-republic activities,” and detained.
North Korea only publicly announced his arrest on January 22, almost a full month after the fact. On February 29, he was forced to publicly confess to the alleged crime by North Korean authorities, though it’s not clear how freely he confessed. Reading from a prepared statement, Warmbier said he took the sign as “a trophy,” and called the incident “the worst mistake of his life.”
Weeks later, Warmbier was convicted by a Supreme Court and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Earlier in June of this year, Warmbier’s release was secured by the Trump Administration, according to Time Magazine. Weeks after he was scheduled to graduate from the University of Virginia, Warmbier was given a medical evacuation from North Korea.
North Korean officials said Warmbier had contracted botulism in detention, was given sleeping pills, and fell into a coma. He was moved from the plane to a waiting ambulance, and transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he passed away.
Warmbier’s death will prompt new, hard questions at a time when tensions between the nations are historically high. If North Korea is found to have committed “willful killing, torture, or inhuman treatment” in their handling of Warmbier, the nation may have violated the Geneva Convention, for example.
The President has not made a statement at this time.