Bright blue and white ribbons put up by some 50 volunteers in the town of Wyoming, Ohio, on Thursday, June 22, were a reminder of the life of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student who died after being detained in North korea for almost a year and a half.
The ribbons were put up from the cemetery to the Wyoming High School auditorium, Warmbier’s alma mater, where Wyoming officials say a celebration of his life is planned for Friday, June 23.
His former soccer coach, Steve Thomas, called him one of the most compassionate and nicest people he has ever known.
“He would on purpose go out of his way to make sure that, especially incoming freshman, would feel comfortable on the team,” he said. “If it came down to him receiving credit for something that someone else [did], he would usually make sure that the other person got the credit.”
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who traveled to North Korea en route to study abroad in Hong Kong, was accused of taking down propaganda material in a hotel and was charged with “hostile acts against the state” by the North Korean regime. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison at hard labor.
He fell into a coma shortly after his March 2016 trial. He was medically evacuated and came back to the United States in a vegetative state. He died on Monday, June 19, at a hospital in Cincinnati.
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see, and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable—almost anguished,” said his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement. “Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed—he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.”
The North Korean regime attributed his state to botulism, and while his parents reject that explanation, they have also refused to have an autopsy done on their son, the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office in Ohio said. They would only allow an external examination of his body.
U.S. legislators are considering a travel ban to North Korea, or requiring Americans traveling there to obtain a license after Warmbier’s death.
Three other Americans, Kim Dong-chul, who lived in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, two Americans affiliated with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, are also in detention in North Korea.
By Holly Kellum