Otto Warmbier dies days after being returned from North Korea in a coma; family thank supporters for prayers

The U.S. student was imprisoned for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotelReuters

American student Otto Warmbier has died just days after being returned to the United States from North Korea in a comatose state.

The 22-year-old's death on Monday was confirmed by his parents Fred and Cindy Warmbier. In a statement, they blamed his death on the treatment he had received at the hands of North Korea, where he had spent the last 17 months in prison for trying to remove a propoganda poster from his hotel.  

After arriving back in the US, it was revealed that the University of Virginia student had suffered extensive brain loss and was unable to communicate.

North Korean authorities blamed his condition on botulism and said they had freed him on 'humanitarian grounds.' His family and US doctors refused to accept the official explanation from North Korea for his deterioration.

'The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,' Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement.

'When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th, he was unable to speak, unable to see or react to verbal commands.  According to the BBC, he had been in a coma for a year.

'He looked very uncomfortable - almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance on his face changed - he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.

'We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too,' they said.

Warmbier was in Pyongyang on a tourist trip with other students from the University of Virginia when he was arrested on 2 January 2016 for trying to steal a propoganda poster from a hotel and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. 

According to the BBC, Warmbier had confessed to trying to take the propaganda poster as a 'trophy' for a US church.

US President Donald Trump responded to his death in a statement condemning 'the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.'

His local church had responded to news of his condition by praying for him and his family. Eric Miller, pastor of the Ascension and Holy Trinity Church in Cincinnati, said according to 'We've been praying for him, his parents, and now the people transporting him back home.

'[Warmbier's imprisonment] has touched people's lives in our church setting. It touches a lot of people in our community in a variety of ways. I think God hears our prayers.'

A member of the congregation, Jenni McCauley said: 'Our entire Wyoming community is thrilled that Otto is finally being returned to the US and to his family. Otto grew up here and we know him as an intelligent, personable, and wonderful young man. At the same time, we are saddened to learn that he is in a coma and we hope that he will soon be returned to full health.'