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Otto Warmbier died on Monday after 17 months detention in North Korea

Doctors said he suffered significant tissue loss in his brain

CNN  — 

After 17 months of detention in North Korea, the conditions of which are still unclear, Otto Warmbier returned to his home state of Ohio last week.

On Monday, his family announced his death.

“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. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person,” his family said in a statement.

The young man who landed in Cincinnati wasn’t the same person who left a year and a half ago on a trip to explore the secretive country.

Before his death, Warmbier did not talk, move in any purposeful way or respond to verbal communication. In a news conference, doctors called his condition “unresponsive wakefulness,” and revealed he had suffered significant brain damage during his imprisonment.

The North Korean government said botulism is to blame for Warmbier’s condition, but doctors said they didn’t find any evidence of the illness in the now 22-year-old.

Otto Warmbier, a student who has been imprisoned by North Korea, was set free
Unresponsive wakefulness explained
01:37 - Source: CNN

Before his detention made global headlines, Otto Warmbier was just an adventurous college student.

Bright future

Otto was born to Cindy and Fred Warmbier in Cincinnati – the same city in which he’s now hospitalized.

He excelled in academics, graduating from Wyoming High School in 2013 as his class salutatorian and getting a scholarship to the University of Virginia. There, he studied commerce and economics and was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity.

By all accounts, Warmbier was a planner. Someone who would always prioritize family and schoolwork over socializing.

“If Otto had anything schoolwork-related, job-related, family-related that he needed to do,” Otto’s friend Ned Ende told the Washington Post, “there was absolutely nothing you could say to him to convince him to do stuff with you.”

But instead of graduating in May with the rest of his class, Warmbier was still in North Korea.

It wasn’t a part of the plan.