As many as 2,500 mourners flocked to Wyoming High School, in Wyoming, Ohio, and many more lined up in the street, to say good bye to Jewish American college student Otto Warmbier who had been imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year and died shortly after being returned in a coma to Ohio.
The service took place in the school’s arts center, which could only hold 800, and so TV screens were set up in overflow rooms.
“It doesn’t really feel real yet. He’s so young, and he’s been gone for so long,” Grady Beerck, 22, Warmbier’s former soccer teammate, told the AP. “The impact he made is always going to last with people.”
Among the speakers were Warmbier’s brother, Austin, his sister, Greta, and a few of his friends. US Ambassador Joseph Yun, who helped with Warmbier’s release, also attended, as did Ohio Senator Rob Portman.
“North Korea needs to be held accountable for what happened to Otto Warmbier,” Portman said. “They have shown they not only don’t have regard for the rule of law, the Geneva convention, the basic freedoms that we enjoy. But they’ve shown through their treatment of Otto a disregard for basic human rights for human dignity.”
The people inside and outside the school stood in silence and his classmates hugged and cried as the pallbearers carried Warmbier’s casket out to the hearse.
Warmbier’s former soccer coach, Steve Thomas, said the young student came from a religious Jewish family and participated in a birthright trip to Israel.
“He had a deep desire to know God in a personal way,” Thomas said. “He wasn’t big on doing things because he was supposed to do it. He did things because he wanted to do them.”