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Former Cary man describes theater attack; Crystal Lake native still missing

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(LinkedIn, AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Steve Ostergaard (inset) of Cary was in a midnight showing of "Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo. when a gunman entered the theater and began shooting, killing 12 and injuring more than 50.

A former Cary resident was among those in the Aurora, Colo., theater where a gunman opened fire on the audience during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." While the former Cary man, 27-year-old Steve Ostergaard, escaped uninjured, a Crystal Lake native who also was in the theater is missing.

John Thomas Larimer was at the midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" when a gunman opened fire on the audience, killing 12, Larimer's father, Scott, told area media outlets. But Scott Larimer and his wife have been unable to contact their son.

John Larimer was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Aurora. The U.S. Department of Defense said earlier Friday that three members of the U.S. Armed Forces – two from the Air Force, one from the Navy – were wounded in the shooting, and a Navy sailor remained unaccounted for.

“We have literally been calling for 15 hours,” Scott Larimer of Crystal Lake told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We cannot get any help from the military, the police, the hospitals, the Red Cross. ... We cannot get a single answer if he is alive or dead. ... We are more than frantic.”

The Larimers declined to speak with a reporter at their Crystal home on Friday evening.

At a press conference in Colorado, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said officers expect to get a confirmed list of the deceased and meet with their families Friday night.

As the Larimers wait for news, the Ostergaard family is relieved that Steven Ostergaard was unharmed.

Ostergaard, 27, who now lives in Lake Bluff, was chaperoning 11 14- to 21-year-olds to the movie that night.

Ostergaard and the group settled into their seats in Theater 8 and never imagined that next door, a gas-masked gunman soon would open fire on other moviegoers.

Ostergaard, a special education teacher in Waukegan, is in Colorado for a national conference "Friends: Association of Young People Who Stutter."

As a fight scene danced on the movie screen in front of him, Ostergaard saw smoke and thought an unruly movie patron had set off fireworks. Things got serious when a piece of shrapnel struck an 18-year-old boy in his group. Ostergaard rushed the teen to the lobby to get medical attention, but still didn't realize the magnitude of what was happening around him.

"I thought, man, this is really good special effects," Ostergaard said in a phone interview from Aurora, Colo. "At first I thought the smoke was special effects, then I heard a banging and thought someone was throwing fireworks."

It wasn't fireworks.

Rounds of bullets were being fired, and when the shooter was done, 12 people were dead.

Ostergaard and the teen were the first out of Theater 8.

In the lobby, Ostergaard heard gunshots and realized that it was time to get his group as far away as possible.

As he ushered the children to the car, the lobby area of the theater began filling with smoke, and he saw bloodied moviegoers running out of the theater doors.

"It was complete pandemonium," he said. "People were crying, people were bloody. Police were in complete defense mode, they had shotguns in hand. I think that really scared the kids."

Ostergaard was unsure of where the shrapnel came from that struck the teen in his group. He couldn't say whether it was from stray bullets in the neighboring movie theater or if it was from what he described as an "explosion" in a nearby stairwell.

The injured teen was recovering at a nearby hospital, where he had surgery to remove the shrapnel from his wrist.

The group returned to the hotel, where Ostergaard immediately called each child's parents, then watched Twitter for constant updates as the grisly scene unfolded.

Ostergaard remained calm throughout his phone interview with the Northwest Herald.

"I never really felt scared," he said. "I was more nervous, and I wanted to make sure my kids were OK. To me, it hasn't settled in just yet.

"My big thing is I don't want to sound like a hero," he said. "I just had to stay calm for the kids. I couldn't let them know that inside I was very nervous."

Steve's mother, Ro Ostergaard, a marketing employee for Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, also was in Colorado when she got a phone call sometime between 12:15 and 12:30 a.m. from a parent whose child had witnessed the shooting.

"All we knew at that time was that a child had been shot. We didn’t know anything else," the Cary woman said.

"I was terrified. Our son and the rest of the group were able to get out quickly – even before police arrived and quarantined the area. Then they started transporting witnesses to a local high school."

Ro Ostergaard said the members of the group who attended the movie were obviously traumatized by the incident.

"Besides asking the obvious question about how someone could do something like this, I am just grateful my son is OK and that the member of our organization is going to be OK," she said. "This is a horrific tragedy."

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