(CNN) – American college student Otto Warmbier only intended to spend five days sightseeing in North Korea in 2016.
Instead, he spent 17 months there in detention where his family believes he was tortured into a coma.
On Monday, less than a week after returning to the United States with severe brain damage, his family announced Warmbier had “completed his journey home.” The 22-year-old died Monday afternoon in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his family at his side.
“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,” his family said. “But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.”
The student’s death elicited strong repudiations of the regime from the highest levels of the American government. The news could lead the US to take a tougher line on China, the hermit regime’s closest ally, as the two superpowers begin high level talks this week. It also prompted the tour group that facilitated Warmbier’s visit to end trips to North Korea for Americans.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who helped push for Warmbier’s release, said the United States holds North Korea “accountable” for an unjust imprisonment.
The North Korean government said he fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill in March 2016. But US doctors said they found no evidence of the illness.
“Let us state the facts plainly: Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong Un regime,” said US Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.
President Donald Trump condemned the “brutal regime” and lamented the loss of a young man “in the prime of life.”
“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency. The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
Warmbier had not spoken or moved in any purposeful way since his return, a condition his doctors called “unresponsive wakefulness” also known as persistent vegetative state. He had suffered significant brain damage during his imprisonment.
The family thanked the staff at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for doing everything they could for their son in his final days.
“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.”