‘He felt like everyone’s friend’ — a high-school classmate talks about Otto Warmbier, the American student who died after imprisonment in North Korea

A former high-school classmate of Otto Warmbier, recently shared her memories of his warmth and charisma.

Warmbier, a 22-year-old American student, died Monday after returning home from a year in a North Korean prison.

He “felt like everyone’s friend in our small town of Wyoming, Ohio, given his nondiscriminatory friendliness,” Sallee Ann Ruibal wrote in the Post Independent.

Ruibal said that Warmbier extended himself to others. She wrote:

“I remember one day in the lunchroom, I saw him sit down at the table where all the kids in the special education program sat. His face lit up as he talked to each of the kids, addressing them by name. He was his same exuberant, talkative self. They talked sports, popular culture, normal teenage things. Once more, it was evident Otto wasn’t acting that way because he felt he should or that it would gain him favour or attention. He acted that way because it was his good nature to.”

Warmbier was crowned homecoming and prom king in high school, and, as salutatorian, gave the class graduation speech.

“We heard his speech at graduation where he, the salutatorian of our class, included the famous ‘The Office’ quote: ‘I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them,'” she wrote.

Warmbier went on to attend the University of Virginia in 2013. During a study-abroad trip to Hong Kong, he toured North Korea for five days, and was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour, but was brought back to the US in June. He arrived in a coma and died on Monday.

President Trump condemned the North Korean regime following Warmbier’s death, and the State Department released a statement holding North Korea accountable.

Ruibal’s column in the post Independent urged people to remember Warmbier because he is someone who deserves “to be talked about in the same exuberant, personal way he talked about others.”

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