Friends, family and members of the public gathered on Thursday in Ohio to say goodbye to an American student who just six died days after being returned to the United States in a coma following 17 months in captivity in North Korea.
Otto Warmbier, 22, was arrested in the reclusive communist country while visiting as a tourist. He was brought back to the United States last week with severe brain damage, in what doctors described as state of ‘unresponsive wakefulness,’ and died on Monday.
Thousands turned out to pay their respects to Otto at his funeral on Thursday, but many were turned away at the door when Wyoming High School’s auditorium reached its capacity of about 2,100.
Warmbier’s brother, sister and friends were among those who spoke at the service. A rabbi was officiating at the public service, which was closed to the news media.
Otto’s younger brother Austin told mourners: ‘It doesn’t matter where he was or what he was doing, he was always there for you whenever you needed him.’
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The casket of Otto Warmbier is carried out from his funeral at Wyoming High School on Thursday
The pallbearers all wore blue and white ribbons on their lapels – the colors of Wyoming High School. Otto’s brother Austin is seen third from the right of the pallbearers
Warmbier’s father Fred (holding hands with his wife Cindy) wore an American flag tie to the ceremony. He has praised the Trump Administration for securing his son’s release
Mourners line the street as the hearse carrying Warmbier’s casket leave the funeral service on Thursday
Two young female mourners hold hands as they leave the service on Thursday
‘It is hard following in Otto’s footsteps,’ Austin added. ‘He had a perfect GPA, and was the captain of the soccer team.
‘When I used to get in trouble with my parents, Otto would call them from Charlottesville and try to convince them I wasn’t the horrible child they thought I was,’ he said as the mourners broke into laughter.
He added: ‘Otto was the most popular, well-liked person I’ve ever met. He could make a friend out of anyone, it doesn’t matter who it was.’
The tragic student’s former girlfriend, Alex Vagonis paid tribute to him: ‘It was not just my life he made more colorful, but everyone else’s.
‘Every person who had the privilege of interacting with him, even just momentarily, saw the magnetic effect he had…how lucky we all are to have shared our lives and experiences with this inspiring goofball of a man.’
A former teacher of Otto Warmbier said the service was one of love and laughter as his siblings and close friends recalled their times with him.
Warmbier’s brother Austin (left) and sister Greta (right) are pictured above speaking at his funeral
Warmbier’s girlfriend, Alex Vagonis (pictured), also took part in the ceremony
A view inside the funeral service at Wyoming High School Thursday morning
Friends held each other on stage as another person spoke at the funeral on Thursday
There was also overflow seating at a different location in the school
Pictures of Warmbier were blown up and displayed in the hall for the mourners arriving for the service
A mourner signs the guest book at the funeral of Otto Warmbier Thursday morning
The service lasted for about an hour, after which pallbearers brought his casket out and put it in a hearse to start the procession to Oak Hill Cemetery for burial.
Otto’s father, Fred Warmbier, followed the casket out of the auditorium holding his wife Cindy’s hand. He wore an American flag tie and a blue suit jacket. Cindy Warmbier wore a black dress, and appeared emotional as she left the service.
Wyoming, Ohio has a population of around 8,000. Before the service, one mourner told DailyMail.com: ‘Otto was everybody’s son or brother. We all feel the pain of Otto’s family today and always will.’
Mourners, some dabbing away tears, lined up patiently as officials walked through the queues seeking family and close friends to take them to the front while police said an anti-room would accommodate those unable to enter the service.
As they entered the hall a large white wreath in blue and white colored flowers, the school’s colors, in the shape of a Good Luck horse shoe was placed at the front door.
Otto’s mother Cindy (to the right of her husband Fred, in American flag tie) appeared to cry as she left the service
Fred Warmbier hugs a mourner outside of his son’s funeral service on Thursday in Wyoming, Ohio
Warmbier is being buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Wyoming, Ohio. Above, pallbearers carrying his casket out of the service Thursday morning
Warmbier’s father kept his head bowed as he exited the service Thursday morning, wearing an American flag tie
The pallbearers all wore black jackets as a sign of mourning while carrying the casket out of the service Thursday morning
A bag pipe player led the procession out of the service and to the cemetery
Mourners line the street after the funeral of Otto Warmbier, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Wyoming, Ohio
Warmbier is pictured above during his trial in North Korea, in which he confessed to stealing a propaganda poster during a trip to the country
Above, the program for Thursday’s memorial service for Otto Warmbier, featuring pictures of him with his family
Blue and white ribbons were also tied to trees around the city to show support for Warmbier’s family after his recent return.
Following the service, hundreds lined the streets as a hearse took Warmbier’s casket to Oak Hill Cemetery for burial. Some held their hands to their hearts as a salute to Warmbier.
Former Wyoming High School sports Coach Mike Pearl who taught Otto in 7th and 8th grade, told DailyMail.com: ‘It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful young man.
‘I had the pleasure of coaching him in junior high and he was just full of life and just a great kid.
‘This was a wonderful tribute to his life. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of memories shared. He will be missed, but a lot of folks here today will remember him forever. His life will remain in our hearts and we’ll continue on in his name.
‘His siblings spoke and three or four of his college friends and they were just positive and optimistic. We shed a few tears but they were probably more through laughter,’ Pearl said.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier stand at the front of a line of mourners after the ceremony Thursday morning
Mourners console one another as the hearse carrying Otto Wambier departs for the cemetery after his funeral service Thursday
People hug at the funeral service of Otto Warmbier outside Wyoming High School on Thursday, June 22
People who gathered on the sides of the street to watch the procession wore blue and white in honor of Warmbier
Members of the town held their hands to their hearts in a salute as Warmbier’s casket was taken to Oak Hill Cemetery for burial
Otto Warmbier’s funeral was held Thursday morning at his alma mater, Wyoming High School, in Wyoming, Ohio
Local reporters, national reporters and even TV crews from South Korea broadcast from the funeral on Thursday
Mourners line the street after the funeral of Otto Warmbier on Thursday
Thousands turned out for the service, and started lining up well before 8am. The service started at 9am and several mourners were turned away due to a lack of space
The service was open to the public, but not members of the news media. Above, mourners lining up ahead of the funeral on Thursday
The town of Wyoming has a population of about 8,000. The auditorium where the ceremony takes places has a capacity around 2,100
Warmbier died on Monday, six days after he was returned from North Korea where he had been detained for 17 months
Warmbier was brought back to the U.S. in a coma. It’s still unclear what caused him to become unwell during his detainment in North Korea
A hearse carrying Warmbier’s body is parked in front of the high school before the funeral service on Thursday
Pearl said that Warmbier loved shopping at thrift stores an listening to underground rap music.
‘He loved people and was passionate for life and we’ll keep those memories alive.
‘I will always remember his smile and his laughter. He made us believe that life was a game and that you have to live it to the full with a laugh. I was proud to know him,’ Pearl added.
Pearl said he is happy that the family were able to get Warmbier home, though their time with him wasn’t long. He said they ‘have shown a tremendous amount of strength, courage and dignity’.
‘I have great respect for Otto’s parents for the way they have handled this.
‘They have shown no animosity or bore grudges or made a big thing about the country doing more on Otto’s behalf. They have shown grace and they have shown class through out this whole ordeal.
‘We may never know what Otto endured over there, but we do know what a great kid he was and that he was loved,’ Pearl said.
Inside the high school, Warmbier’s family laid out all of the possession he took with him on his trip to North Korea
Among the items, which were returned to him after he was released from detainment last week, were a graphic calculator, several items of clothing, his passport, a wallet and a University of Virginia notebook
His wallet and passport can be seen in this photograph released by the family
Warmbier was salutatorian of his graduating class at Wyoming High School. A brick outside the school has his name inscribed on it
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, told the throng of reporters stationed outside that Warmbier was ‘an amazing young man’ from a resilient family and that North Korea must be held accountable for what happened to the 22-year-old University of Virginia student, who died Monday.
‘This college kid never should have been detained in the first place,’ said Portman, who revealed Wednesday that he met secretly with North Korean officials in New York last December to press for Warmbier’s release.
He said North Korea’s treatment of Otto demonstrated ‘a basic disregard for human rights, for human dignity.’
‘Today is a somber day. It’s also a day to talk about a life…and the impact he made on so many people,’ Portman added.
In addition to Portman, three officials from the Trump administration were in attendance Thursday morning.
When asked about allegations that President Obama didn’t do enough to try and secure Warmbier’s release, Portman refused to dole out blame.
‘I do believe that both the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration tried to get Otto home,’ he said.
Portman himself had a huge role in trying to free Warmbier. On Wednesday, it was revealed that he even staged a secret meeting with North Korean officials at the United Nations last December.
The U.S. does not officially have relations with the North Koreans, so most of the time communications between the two nations happen through conduit nations, such as Sweden.
During the meeting, Portman urged the North Koreans to let the Swedish ambassador visit Warmbier in Pyongyang, but they refused.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman speaks to the press before the funeral of Otto Warmbier on Thursday
Mourners stand out side the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017
Mourners are seen arriving at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, on June 22
The exact cause of Warmbier’s death is unclear. Officials at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was treated, declined to provide details, and Warmbier’s family on Tuesday asked that the Hamilton County Coroner not perform an autopsy.
Warmbier’s father told a news conference last week that his son had flourished while at the high school.
‘This is the place where Otto experienced some of the best moments of his young life, and he would be pleased to know that his return to the United States would be acknowledged on these grounds,’ he said.
After graduating as class salutatorian in 2013, Warmbier enrolled at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he was studying at the school of commerce and was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity. Warmbier was scheduled to graduate this year.
At a memorial service on Tuesday night, students at the university remembered Warmbier as outgoing and energetic.
Mourners wait in line outside the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral for Otto Warmbier on Thursday in Wyoming, Ohio
Warmbier was returned to the U.S. last week in a coma, and died on Monday. His cause of death is unknown
A woman takes a picture of a wreath outside the funeral for Otto Warmbier in Wyoming, Ohio on Thursday
‘Being with Otto made life all the more beautiful,’ Alex Vagonis, Warmbier’s girlfriend, said.
Warmbier was traveling in North Korea with a tour group, and was arrested at Pyongyang airport as he was about to leave.
He was sentenced two months later to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel, North Korea state media said.
Ria Westergaard Pedersen, 33, who was with Warmbier in North Korea, told the Danish broadcaster TV2 that he had been nervous when taking pictures of soldiers, and said she doubted North Korea’s explanation for his arrest.
‘We went to buy propaganda posters together, so why in the world would he risk so much to steal a trivial poster? It makes no sense.’
A sign is seen at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, on Thursday before the funeral for Otto Warmbier
Blue and white ribbons are seen on one of the streets in Wyoming, Ohio, on Thursday
The funeral has been opened to the public. Thousands were expected to attend
Following Warmbier’s death, the tour group that arranged his trip said it would no longer take Americans to North Korea.
‘Now, the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high,’ said the China-based Young Pioneer Tours.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that Washington holds North Korea ‘accountable’ for Warmbier’s fate, and demanded the release of three other Americans held by the reclusive regime.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that US patience with Pyongyang is running out.
‘To see a young man go over there healthy and, (after) a minor act of mischief, come home dead basically… this goes beyond any kind of understanding of law and order, of humanity, of responsibility towards any human being,’ Mattis said.
‘Being with Otto made life all the more beautiful,’ Alex Vagonis, Warmbier’s girlfriend, said of him. The couple pictured together on the right
Otto’s father Fred is pictured above speaking at a press conference last week about his son