Otto Warmbier was rushed to a Cincinnati hospital shortly after arriving from Pyongyang late Tuesday night.
His nightmare started in March 2016 when North Korea says they caught the 22-year-old trying to steal a propaganda poster from the hotel he was staying at while on a tour of the reclusive nation.
A security camera allegedly caught Warmbier in the act.
He was arrested and weeks later brought to North Korea’s supreme court where he pleaded for mercy.
“Please, I have made the worst mistake of my life, but please, act to save me,” Warmbier said during his court appearance in March 2016.
But the judge showed no mercy.
In a trial that lasted just one hour, the native of Ohio was convicted and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
“Please save my life,” he pleaded with the court. “Please think of my family.”
Warmbier’s parents hadn’t heard from or seen him since he was sentenced and found out just last week that their son had been in a coma for almost a year.
The Washington Post reports that Warmbier contracted botulism soon after his trial and never woke up. A senior American official tells the New York Times that Warmbier was repeatedly beaten while in North Korean custody.
His parents released a statement saying, “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korea.”
“We pray for him and we pray for his family,” said Thomas Shannon, a high-ranking State Department official.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced Warmbier’s release on Tuesday during an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations committee.
“At the president’s direction, the Dept of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier. He’s on his way en route home to be reunited with his family,” Tillerson said.
In suburban Cincinnati where Warmbier is from, the local community there prepared for his return by tying white and blue ribbons around his neighborhood.
“The family’s been through so much agony and stress that they just want to surround them with love, and I think putting up the blue and white ribbons – because those are Wyoming colors, the high school where he went – that kind of shows him support, that we’re here for the family,” said Amy Mayer, a neighborhood friend.
Warmbier’s release comes as three other U.S. citizens are still being held in North Korea.