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Family, Friends Remember Otto Warmbier: 'He Had a Deep Desire to Know God in a Personal Way'

06-23-2017
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Family, friends and well wishes gathered to celebrate the life of Otto Warmbier.

"He had so much promise, he was everything - outgoing, athletic, bright, curious," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Two thousand people packed into a school for his funeral and final send off this week.

"I'm going to remember him as being smart, wearing crazy sweaters and just simply being larger than life," said Cynthia Meis, Otto's former college admissions counselor.

Those who gathered to hear about his life were still coming to terms with his sudden absence.

"The impact he made is always going to last with people, so it's just - it doesn't feel real yet, honestly," said Grady Beerch, a friend of Warmbier's.

Some of Warmbier's family members spoke during the funeral service.

"It doesn’t matter where he was or what he was doing, he was always there for you whenever you needed him," Otto’s younger brother Austin told mourners. "It is hard following in Otto’s footsteps. He had a perfect GPA, and was the captain of the soccer team."

The funeral was held at Wyoming High School, Warmbier's alma mata. The Warmbier family decided to lay out some of the belongings Otto took with him on his trip to North Korea.

Among the items on a table inside the high school were his passport, a jacket he wore in North Korea, a calculator, several items of clothing, a wallet and a University of Virginia notebook.

North Korea responded to Warmbier's death for the first time on Friday claiming that his death was a "mystery" to them.

"The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well," North Korea's official news agency claimed.

Who and what is to blame for the death of Univeristy of Virginia college student Otto Warmbier? Watch CBN's Sr. International Reporter Gary Lane's video commentary.

The 22-year-old student from Ohio died less than a week after returning home from North Korean detention.

"I think that he had a deep desire to know God in a personal way, and I know he was involved with doing some mission work and stuff like that," said Steve Thomas, Warmbier's former soccer coach. "He was truly one of the most nicest, most compassionate people I have known for a long time."

Warmbier's nightmare started in May 2016 when he was caught on a security camera allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster.

He was immediately arrested and brought before North Korea's supreme court where he pleaded for mercy.

"One final time: people and government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, I beg for forgiveness," Warmbier said during his trial, which lasted just one hour.

But the judge showed no mercy and gave him 15 years hard labor.

CBN News interviewed Jared Brock, co-founder of Hope for the Sold, for some perspective on life in communist North Korea, In 2014, Brock traveled to the hermit kingdom as part of a 37-thousand mile journey to several countries around the world.

Warmbier's parents hadn't heard from or seen their son since he was sentenced and found out just days before his release that he had been in a coma for almost a year.   

"This college kid never should have been detained in the first place," said Sen. Portman, who revealed this week he had held secret meetings with the North Koreans seeking Warmbier's release.

"I did go to New York and meet with North Korean officials," Portman told The Enquirer. "It was with the mission to the United Nations, That's the only North Korean presence in our country."

Now calls are growing for the U.S. to put the screws on the North Korean regime.

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