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Thousands Gather To Pay Their Respects To Otto Warmbier

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Friends, family members and others said goodbye to Otto Warmbier at Wyoming High School, Thursday morning.

Thousands of people celebrated the life of an American college student who was detained in North Korea for over a year and died shortly after being returned to Ohio. 

Otto Warmbier was in a coma when he was released, and died less than a week after returning home.

Friends like David Weinrich still can't believe he's gone.

"He was great. I don't think you can find words to really describe him. He was amazing. He was nice to everybody. He'd come up to anybody and talk to them no matter who you were. Always had a smile on his face. Had people laughing. He was athletic, smart. He was such a great, amazing person."

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An unidentified person signs a condolence book at the memorial service for Otto Warmbier.

Warmbier's brother, sister and friends all spoke at a public funeral Thursday morning at Wyoming High School.

As pallbearers carried Warmbier’s casket out to the hearse, people outside the school stood in silence. His classmates hugged and cried. Many of them lined the street as the procession pulled out.

The U.S. diplomat who traveled to North Korea to secure Warmbier’s release, Joseph Yun, was at the funeral and so was Ohio Senator Rob Portman who had harsh words for the country that detained him.

“North Korea needs to be held accountable for what happened to Otto Warmbier," Portman says. "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 senator says the next step is tightening sanctions against North Korea.

A coroner is trying to determine Warmbier's cause of death. Hamilton County Cororner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco  said in a news release her office received and examined Warmbier's body but the family objected to an autopsy and the coroner only performed an external examination.

Relatives were told the 22-year-old University of Virginia student had been in a coma since shortly after he was sentenced for allegedly trying to steal a North Korean propaganda banner in March, 2016.

He died Monday at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. 

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.
Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.