The song starts fast but leaves a lasting impression and forceful message.
“He was only a few years younger than myself,” said songwriter Bennett Wales, the frontman of the group who recorded the song, Bennett Wales & The Relief. “When he was released in a vegetative state it was heartbreaking, and watching a doctored confession on behalf of the North Korean regime that had him read it, tore me up a little bit.”
Wales and his bandmates, a group based out of Virginia Beach, Va., decided they had to get the message about him out in a creative way, using music to touch the nation.
“Music is a very communicative platform, and especially rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll has a really proud history of standing up for the injustices of the word and especially in individual cases, like Otto’s,” Wales explained. “A lot of people are totally unaware of his story.”
The rock band Bennett Wales and The Relief wrote the song “Hey Otto” to honor Warmbier and call attention to North Korea’s brutality.
Otto Warmbier was a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from Ohio, who was arrested and falsely accused of tearing down a propaganda poster when he was on a student tour of North Korea in 2015. U.S. officials said the regime tortured him and sent him home to Cincinnati in 2017 unable to speak or hear, and in a vegetative state. He died days after his return.
The music video interposed footage of Warmbier, Kim Jong Un, President Trump and North Korean scenes, ending with a smiling photo of Otto showing the dates of his birth and death.
“They broke your body and they sent you home, too little too late you were already gone,” part of the lyrics read. “Nobody seen and nobody heard, and out of sight, out of mind, no justice served.”
The refrain includes the phrase, “I remember and I know who you are, I’ll write your name in the stripes and the stars,” and, “Hey Otto, they got to know.”
“Probably the most rewarding thing was getting a phone call from [Otto’s mother] Cindy Warmbier. She was so gracious and thankful. It was an affirmation that this is why we do it, this is the power that music can have,” Wales said. “The main message is that they are not alone in their grief, not alone in their frustration, not alone in seeking answers and figuring out what happened to Otto, when it happened, and who is responsible and finding those responsible and holding them criminally accountable.”
In a statement to Fox News, Cindy Warmbier said she’s thankful that the band recorded the song. She also said this about “Hey Otto”:
“I interpret the song as a call for accountability on what North Korea did to our son, Otto. Why the Obama administration chose to do nothing, never demanding Otto’s release or ever reach out to help our family. And finally, a call to our current government to fully exonerate Otto and expose the truth about North Korea.”
“My hope is that more people will hear the story and demand answers,” Wales added. “I would like to see some answers and justice for the Warmbiers, for his family and friends who have been trying to find the answers.”
He continued, “This is a young man who had his whole life ahead of him. He was loved dearly by all of his friends and family. He was very successful at school, an awesome guy, and I hope we can find the answers and have some accountability for the people who were responsible.”
The song has had more than 100,000 downloads and can be heard on the group’s website, TheReliefmusic.com, YouTube or here.
Besides Wales, The Relief also includes Mike Fischetti on bass, Drew Orton on drums, Brock Bittner on lead guitar and Caleb Little on the organ.