American college student Otto Warmbier has been released after more than 17 months in detention in North Korea but has been in a coma for over a year, according to his parents.
The 22-year-old contracted botulism and is in “bad shape” but en route back to the United States, a source close to the family told CNN.
“Otto has left North Korea. He is on Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago,” said Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement. “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korean. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him.”
Warmbier was detained in January 2016 at the airport in Pyongyang while on his way home. His parents say the University of Virginia student had been on a tour of the reclusive country.
North Korean authorities said they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan that was hanging from the walls of his Pyongyang hotel.
Warmbier was found guilty and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years hard labor. It was the last time he was seen publicly.
“Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior. Otto should have been released from the start,” said US Sen. Rob Portman, who represents Warmbier’s home state of Ohio.