Thousands gathered Thursday morning at Wyoming High School in Ohio to attend the funeral for Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old University of Virginia student who died Monday afternoon after spending 17 months in detention in North Korea. Warmbier's funeral, open to the public and held in the arts center of his alma mater — where he graduated as salutatorian only four years ago — began at 9 a.m. ET. He will be laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery.
The school was already packed at least an hour before the service began, as scores of people waited in two lines for the service to begin.
"When you hear his speech as salutatorian and you hear him speak about where we're going, and where we're going to be and what we're going to do, it is somewhat foretelling," said Lauren Wadds, a parent of Wyoming High School graduates, to the NBC affiliate WLWT. "It brings me peace."
At Wyoming High School, Warmbier was captain of the soccer team and crowned prom king. In college, he was active with his campus Hillel, the Jewish student organization, and, in an email to the JTA from the university's Hillel director, was described as a, "beloved member" of the community.
By 9 a.m., the school's 2,500-person total capacity had already reached its limit, with officials telling mourners that a staging area would be set up for overflow. The auditorium, where the service took place, could only accommodate around 800 people, according to Ann Thompson of Cincinnati's public radio station WVXU. In the gym, people sat on blue bleachers and watched a screening of the ceremony.
Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korea policy, who helped secure Wambier's release, also attended the service, which lasted for around 45 minutes.
The funeral service, presided over by a rabbi, included bagpipes, speeches by Warmbier's siblings and friends, and a quote on the program from his 2013 salutatorian speech: "This is our season finale. This is the end of one great show, but just the beginning to hundreds of new spinoffs."
After the service ended, the procession to the cemetery began as mourners in black shuffled out of the school. The route included signs of prayer and sayings of, "Godspeed Otto," while ribbons tied to telephone poles and trees lined the streets to honor Warmbier.
"We choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person," Warmbier's parents, Cindy and Fred, said in a statement. "You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family."