Mourners in Ohio remember Otto Warmbier beyond North Korea detainment and death

WYOMING, Ohio, June 22 (Reuters) - Thousands of friends and family members gathered in suburban Cincinnati on Thursday to say goodbye to an American student who died days after being returned to the United States in a coma following 17 months in captivity in North Korea.

Otto Warmbier, 22, was arrested in the reclusive communist country while visiting as a tourist. He was brought back to the United States last week with brain damage, in what doctors described as state of "unresponsive wakefulness," and died on Monday.

Some 2,500 mourners lined up early on Thursday morning at Wyoming High School, in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming. Warmbier attended the school. He will be buried later in the day at a local cemetery.

The exact cause of his death is unclear. Officials at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was treated, declined to provide details, and Warmbier's family on Tuesday asked that the Hamilton County Coroner not perform an autopsy.

RELATED: Mourners gather to remember Otto Warmbier

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Mourners gather to remember Otto Warmbier
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Mourners gather to remember Otto Warmbier
Mourners stand out side the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
Mourners wait in line outside the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
WYOMING, OH-JUNE 21: The town of Wyoming, Ohio prepares for the funeral of Otto Warmbier June 21, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio. The 22-year-old college student was released from a North Korean prison last Tuesday in a coma after spending 17 months in captivity for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, addresses the media outside the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
WYOMING, OH-JUNE 21: Blue and white ribbons are shown at the entrance to Oak Hill Cemetary the day before the funeral of Otto Warmbier June 21, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio. The 22-year-old college student was released from a North Korean prison last Tuesday in a coma after spending 17 months in captivity for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Mourners stand outside the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
Mourners wait in line outside the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
Mourners stand out side the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
WYOMING, OH-JUNE 21: A man brings balloons into Wyoming High School, site of tomorrow's funeral for Otto Warmbier June 21, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio. The 22-year-old college student was released from a North Korean prison last Tuesday in a coma after spending 17 months in captivity for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Mourners stand out side the art center before a funeral service for Otto Warmbier, who died after his release from North Korea, at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, U.S. June 22, 2017. REUTERS/John Sommers II
WYOMING, OH-JUNE 21: The town of Wyoming, Ohio prepares for the funeral of Otto Warmbier June 21, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio. The 22-year-old college student was released from a North Korean prison last Tuesday in a coma after spending 17 months in captivity for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
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"We have also seen evil and that is how Otto Warmbier was treated. He should have never been detained in the first place," Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told reporters on Thursday.

"And once detained the treatment he received was appalling. The North Koreans need to be held to accountable for that."

After graduating as class salutatorian in 2013, Warmbier enrolled at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he was studying at the school of commerce. Warmbier was scheduled to graduate this year.

Warmbier's brother and sister were expected to speak at Thursday's memorial, as were his friends.

A program for the memorial carried a quote from the character Andy Bernard on the television show 'The Office.'

"I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them," it said.

Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment

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Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment
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Otto Warmbier: A timeline of the student's North Korea imprisonment

January 2016: Warmbier is imprisoned in North Korea, charged with stealing an item that had a state propaganda slogan on it.

March 2016: Warmbier is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea

March 2016 - 2017: The United States advocates for North Korea's allowing Sweden access to Warmbier and three other American citizens, pushing for their release.

January 2017: President Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, signaling a seat change in American foreign diplomacy.

February 2017: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefs President Trump on the situation surrounding Warmbier's imprisonment in North Korea.Trump directs Tillerson to take all appropriate measures in securing the release of U.S. hostages in North Korea.

May 2017:  The U.S. State Department and North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs hold a meeting in Oslo, Norway, during which they agree to the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang's access to all four detainees. Sweden is later granted these visitation rights, prompting North Korea to request a meeting with the United States.

June 6, 2017 - State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun meets with North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon at the United Nations in New York. Yun learns during this meeting that Warmbier has been in a coma for over a year.

June 6-11, 2017: Secretary of State Tillerson instructs Yun to travel to North Korea with the mission of bringing back Warmbier. They travel with a medical team to Pyongyang.

June 12, 2017: Through Yun, the United States is able for the first time to confirm Warmbier's status. The U.S. demands Warmbier be released on humanitarian conditions. North Korea complies.

June 13, 2017: Warmbier is evacuated from North Korea, travels to Ohio where he will reunite with his family.

June 13, 2017: Otto Warmbier arrives home to Cincinnati, Ohio
June 15, 2017: Otto Warmbier's father, Fred, speaks out during a press conference on his son's return home.
June 15, 2017: Doctors give updates on Warmbier's status during a news conference at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Warmbier was traveling in North Korea with a tour group, and was arrested at Pyongyang airport as he was about to leave.

He was sentenced two months later to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel, North Korea state media said.

Ria Westergaard Pedersen, 33, who was with Warmbier in North Korea, told the Danish broadcaster TV2 this week that he had been nervous when taking pictures of soldiers, and said she doubted North Korea's explanation for his arrest.

"We went to buy propaganda posters together, so why in the world would he risk so much to steal a trivial poster? It makes no sense." (Wrting and additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Lisa Von Ahn and Bernard Orr)

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