Otto Warmbier’s parents return to University of Virginia for first time since son’s death

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 10:34 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The family of the University of Virginia student who was captured in North Korea and left in a coma returned to the place he called home before his death nearly five years ago.

Thursday marked the first time Otto Warmbier’s parents, Cindy and Fred, came back to UVA grounds since their son’s death. It started as a way for them to listen to stories, as Think Again, a faculty-led organization at UVA, hosted a panel. But the event ended with the parents sharing stories of their own.

The panel included Billy Burgess, one of Otto’s fraternity brothers, Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, and UVA Law Professor Sai Prakash.

In an interview with NBC29, Cindy Warmbier remembered her late son.

“He was super charismatic,” she said. “I mean, people just gravitated towards him and he gravitated towards people.”

That charisma is why people like Burgess came back to welcome the Warmbiers to Charlottesville.

“He was incredibly loving and caring. It was apparent to people he had never met and apparent to people who had known him forever,” Burgess said.

It’s also why people who never knew him personally, like current members of the Theta Chi fraternity, attended.

Cindy Warmbier told them to call their parents and tell them they love them. They offered that love back.

“I thought [returning to UVA] would be harder than it was. The support really just makes you feel very grateful to this community,” she said.

During the Warmbiers’ return, they met with UVA President Jim Ryan to discuss ways the university could help.

“Enough time has passed, the pain is gone now, that as a community they can move forward too,” she said.

She continued: “If you’re silent, nothing will change. It may not feel like things will change, but the more we talk about this and take little steps in the right direction, it’s the only way for change to happen.”

Cindy Warmbier said that can be done by tapping into UVA’s finest minds to aid grassroots efforts. The motivation was there, especially after harrowing stories were shared about North Korea by Park.

She also said that if Otto was there, he’d be upset his mother had to go through what she did.

“He’d do anything to make my life easier, and he’d be proud of me,” she said. “Because I’m a fighter.”

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