Sailor's death at movie theater a blow to family, community
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — The Larimer house in Crystal Lake was supposed to be alive with happy planning Saturday, as family members flew in from around the country to celebrate a grandmother's 100th birthday.
Instead, early in the morning there was a knock on the door. Two Navy officers stood on the porch of the home decorated with American flags and delivered horrific news from Aurora, Colo.
Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, 27, the witty and passionate son who became a Navy technician, was one of 12 people shot dead during a showing of the new Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises."
And, just like that, the weight of a lone gunman's rampage nearly 1,000 miles away came crashing down on the house.
About 12 hours after the Navy confirmed Larimer as a victim, one sister said "we would like to say that he is, in fact, dead" before she broke into tears.
The news of Larimer's death spread quickly through the community of about 40,000.
As the family huddled inside the house, neighbors approached offering food and condolences.
Many know Larimer -- a cryptologic technician for the Navy based at the Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., -- as an opinionated and intelligent man, quick to show his wry sense of humor but always grounded by compassion.
Larimer's family issued a statement saying that they were praying for the other victims and their families.
"We love you John, and we will miss you always," the statement read.
Julie Gates, 38, who lives a few houses from the Larimers, recalled his kind nature.
When Larimer passed by on his way to visit friends, "My dogs would growl at him and he'd come over and pet them," Gates said.
Her daughter Kristen, 11, recalled a day when she set up a lemonade stand on the block and Larimer approached her to buy a cup. The drink cost 50 cents, she said, but Larimer tipped her $2.
Larimer's opinionated, articulate nature seemed in full bloom as a senior at Crystal Lake South High School in 2003. That year, he wrote to a local newspaper to defend a theater production, "The Laramie Project," that stirred controversy in the community.
Ben Stoner, Larimer's English teacher and theater director, said that the troupe put on the play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998 because of his sexual orientation.
When someone wrote to the Northwest Herald to attack Stoner and the school for staging the play, Larimer offered an impassioned response, printed on May 8, 2003, that rebutted the claim that the kind of intolerance displayed in the production did not occur in the northwest suburb.
"Our high school is about as homogenous as they come, and as far as tolerance I'd suggest standing in our hallways to hear some of the things that are said," Larimer wrote. "The fact is, Crystal Lake is not on some moral high ground. We are not immune to the intolerance that can be found across this entire country."
Stoner said that he doesn't know what led Larimer to join the Navy but it wasn't surprising.
"He was incredibly bright and firm in his ideals, and I have to assume that those ideals included feeling proud to serve and feeling that good must be done," he said. "He was a good, strong human being, and I know that would have fit nicely in his plans, and I know he would have done incredible things for our country."
Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski said Larimer went to the movies with three fellow sailors. Two were unharmed and the third was treated at the scene and released, Jakuboski said.
During a news conference via phone Saturday, Jakuboski, Larimer's commanding officer lauded Larimer's "calming demeanor and exceptional work ethic" in what was his first assignment since joining the Navy in June 2011.
"He was (excelling) in all aspects of our command mission," Jakuboski said. "He was an outstanding shipmate, a valuable member of our Navy team and an extremely dedicated sailor."
Stoner said it wasn't hard to understand what drew Larimer to the premiere of the final installment of the Batman trilogy.
"He was a kid who loved 'Star Wars' and I'm sure loved comics and things on that scale," Stoner said. "That (movie) would have been very welcoming and enjoyable for him."
Tribune reporter Peter Nickeas and freelance reporter Amanda Marrazzo contributed.