Otto Warmbier, the young American who was held in North Korea for a year, medically evacuated back to the US and died on Monday was remembered at a vigil held at the University of Virginia this Tuesday.

The Vigil

This Tuesday, the University of Virginia held a vigil to remember Otto Warmbier, a young American who was detained in North Korea for allegedly trying to steal a political banner. The vigil was hosted by the university’s student council.

Sarah Kenny, the president of the student council, started the vigil by reading a note from Teresa Sullivan, the University president:

“‘Please know that I will pause at this hour to join in your spirit of grief and remembrance as you gather to honor the memory of Otto,’” the note read. “‘All of us in the University community are profoundly saddened by Otto’s death, and we are outraged by the circumstances that led to it.’”

Kenny was followed by Dietra Trent, the Virginia’s Secretary of Education: “I am deeply saddened by this occasion,” Trent said. “I know that there are absolutely no words that can be said at this point to bring consolation to this community or to the world for that matter.”

Theta Chi pledge also spoke of Otto: “Otto went out of his way to invest himself in our lives deeply, and at times pushed his limits to make us feel comfortable or make sure we made it home safely,” a student said. “He was big on human connection and valued interpersonal relationships heavily, often skipping handshakes upon introduction in exchange for a ‘bring it in,’ or ‘let’s hug it out’ and a tight embrace.”

Otto’s Story

Warmbier Otto was accused of trying to steal a political banner from Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo International Hotel and was detained in North Korea for 17 months starting January 2016. He was then sentenced to 15 years of hard labour.

When his family recently learned that he had been in a coma for a year, he was medically evacuated back to the US on June 13th. According to doctors, he returned “in a state of unresponsive wakefulness” and had lost an extensive amount of brain tissue. He was pronounced dead last Monday.

Kenny said in an interview: “I think that healing in a community is really augmented by collective experience sharing in the sorrow.”

“For people to be scattered and not have someone to relate to about what it feels like to lose a member of your school community, someone who you have mutual friends with, someone you might have known makes the process of handling grief and stress all the more difficult.”

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