The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Theta Chi Fraternity calls for return of artwork honoring deceased brother Otto Warmbier

Charlottesville police confirmed a report was filed and an investigation is underway

<p>The brothers of Theta Chi described the painting as a 3-foot-by-3-foot paneled collage of geometric shapes.</p>

The brothers of Theta Chi described the painting as a 3-foot-by-3-foot paneled collage of geometric shapes.

Update: The artwork was returned to the Theta Chi fraternity house Friday wrapped in a plastic garbage bag with an anonymous note attached. Theta Chi is not interested in pressing charges, according to a brother in the fraternity. 

“This was taken out of utter stupidity and we recognize how disrespectful and inconsiderate this act was. We did not realize the significance of this piece and wanted to return it but failed to do so before it could be realized. We want to offer our sincerest apologies, although, we recognize the damage has already been inflicted,” the note read. “We extend our deepest apologies and respects to Otto Warmbier.” 

According to a brother at Theta Chi, the painting was returned undamaged. 

“On behalf of the brothers, we would like to thank whoever returned the painting to its rightful place,” third-year Commerce student Ethan Aldrich said. “It is a symbolic piece of our fraternity as well as towards the warmbier family, and we are glad it's back in the house.” 

A collage painting dedicated to deceased fraternity brother Otto Warmbier was stolen from the Theta Chi Fraternity house at 600 Preston Place the night of Sept. 22, brothers say. 

Warmbier was a member of Theta Chi fraternity and an Echols Scholar at the University who intended to graduate in May 2017. In December 2015, Warmbier traveled to North Korea as part of a tour group. After accusing him of trying to steal a political banner, the government detained Warmbier and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea. Warmbier spent 17 months imprisoned until June 2017, when he was released and returned to the U.S. in an unresponsive state, suffering severe brain tissue loss. Warmbier died June 19, 2017. 

The brothers of Theta Chi described the painting as a 3-foot-by-3-foot paneled collage of geometric shapes. The art piece was located on the second-floor hallway of Theta Chi’s chapter house. At the base of the painting was a plaque that read “Dedicated to our friend Otto Warmbier.” 

Third-year College student Boby Yadzi says Theta Chi keeps Warmbier’s story alive through the fraternity. A section of the chapter’s house is dedicated to his time at the University, including a large steel plaque located outside the garage where Warmbier used to live. 

“Every new pledge class is told Otto’s story and the significance of his death in the history of our chapter,” Yazdi said. “When alumni come to town who were active brothers during his time in the fraternity, they always describe him as a caring and intellectually sharp man.”

According to Yazdi, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the theft occurred. Brothers suspect it happened the night of Wednesday, Sept. 22 — the day before they noticed it was missing. 

Third-year College student Ray Ruhlmann noted the chapter believes whoever took the painting entered the house uninvited. 

“I understand thefts of this nature are not uncommon, composites are often taken by nonmembers as a sort of prank, but this is different,” Ruhlmann said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “Whoever took this paneled collage is actively disrespecting the legacy of a man who lived and cherished U.Va. until his life was cruelly taken from him by a barbaric authoritative state.” 

Ruhlmann said the brothers of Theta Chi feel guilty they allowed such a meaningful painting to be taken out from under them and are saddened part of Warmbier’s legacy is potentially lost.

“The more time that has gone by since his death, the less the incoming U.Va. community understands Otto’s story and the cruelty of his internment,” Ruhlman said. “If the painting is not returned, I fear we lose what small pieces of his legacy our fraternity still has, and his memory will continue to fade among the U.Va. student body.” 

Ruhlmann said the brothers of Theta Chi request the painting be returned safely to their lawn or front door, adding they do not seek retribution from whoever took it. The fraternity reported the robbery to the Charlottesville Police Department on Sept. 28. James Mooney, assistant chief of CPD, confirmed a report was filed and the investigation is currently ongoing. 

“I understand you likely made this error in a moment of foolish compulsiveness, and you likely regret what you have done,” Ruhlmann said. “This is your opportunity to step up and rectify your mistakes. You don’t even need to identify yourself. That artwork does not belong in your apartment — it belongs with the brothers of Theta Chi.”