An overflow crowd gathered at a high school in Wyoming, Ohio, Thursday morning to mourn for Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student who died earlier this week after being released from a North Korean prison.
Friends, family and community members began lining up for his funeral service early as 7 a.m. outside Wyoming High School, where Warmbier graduated in 2013,
By 9 a.m., officials had told the crowd that the school had reached its 2,500-person capacity and that a staging area would be set up for those still outside.
“This process has been an example of evil and love and good,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told reporters outside the school. “This community and country have come together″ and are “holding this family up in prayer.”
Portman also said Warmbier “should’ve never been detained. The North Koreans need to be held accountable for that.”
The service was open to the public, though the Warmbier family asked media not to film inside the school or at his burial site.
Bagpipes could be heard in the background as friends and family escorted Warmbier’s casket to a hearse following the school service. The burial was to take place at nearby Oak Hill Cemetery.
Warmbier was an athlete and salutatorian at the school, located about 10 miles north of Cincinnati, Ohio, and spoke at his graduation in 2013.
He went on to become an honors student at University of Virginia and would have been a member of its 2017 graduating class.
Warmbier died Monday, just days after his release from a North Korean prison where he was held for over a year. Part of a tour group, he was arrested in January 2016 for attempting to steal propaganda banner and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in April 2016.
He was returned to the U.S. last week in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness” after suffering a severe neurological injury, according to doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The cause of Warmbier’s death hasn’t been determined. The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office said Tuesday it would investigate his death, but later announced its staff had only performed an external exam of the body because his family objected to an autopsy.
Flags around Warmbier’s hometown were lowered to half-staff in the days leading up to the service. Wyoming High School students tied blue and white ribbons on trees and telephone poles along the three-mile funeral procession route, according to local NBC affiliate WLWT5.
Fred Warmbier “lost his son to an insidious regime,” William Riekert, a mourner, told WLWT5 at the service. “I don’t understand how some people can be so horrible to human beings.”