Crystal Lake victim not afraid to speak up
CRYSTAL LAKE – John Larimer followed a family tradition by joining the Navy.
About midnight Friday, the family of the fourth generation seaman received the news every family fears, but this time was not because of a combat situation.
The 27-year-old Larimer, a petty officer third class in the U.S. Navy, was among the at least 12 killed when 24-year-old James Holmes opened fire at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” early Friday morning.
“It’s part of our family heritage,” said Scott Larimer, John’s father. “You expect to be in harm’s way in a combat zone, not in a theater in Denver.”
Larimer, a 2003 Crystal Lake South graduate, was stationed in Aurora, Colo. He had been in the Navy about 1½ years, where he worked as a cryptologic technician for the Navy.
In a statement, the family said it was officially notified of his death about midnight Friday after spending all of the day awaiting word of their son’s whereabouts.
“At this point our other son Noel is in Denver working with the Navy and the family here in Illinois to make arrangements to bring John home,” the family said. “We respectfully ask that the family and friends of John be allowed time and privacy to grieve for John, and we send our thoughts and prayers out to the families of the other victims and those still recovering in the hospital. We love you John and we will miss you always.”
Larimer was part of a unit that belongs to U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. Tenth Fleet, located at Buckley Air Force Base, in Colorado.
“I am incredibly saddened by the loss of Petty Officer John Larimer – he was an outstanding shipmate,” Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski, Larimer’s commanding officer said in a statement released by the Navy. “A valued member of our Navy team, he will be missed by all who knew him. My heart goes out to John’s family, friends and loved ones, as well as to all victims of this horrible tragedy.”
In high school, Larimer was deeply involved in the theater program. Among his roles, he played Camelot in the student production of “The Princes and the Pea,” according to his high school year book.
He had participated in speech tournaments, competing in the dramatic duet acting category, according to a speech team competition website.
He also was one of a handful of seniors involved in the Mr. CLS program that raised $2,700 for the American Cancer Society.
Ben Stoner was Larimer’s English teacher and theater director in high school.
“John found a real comfortable home in the theater, [but] I don’t think you would immediately peg him as a theater kid,” Stoner said. “Everyone had a great amount of respect and affection for him.”
Larimer played a lot of supporting roles, but he brought humor to his characters whether big or small, Stoner said. Larimer wasn’t necessarily the center of attention, “but he never shied away from an appropriate joke or comment when he felt moved to contribute.”
He also made his mark in class and waited for the right moment to add a thoughtful or profound comment during a discussion, Stoner said.
“He was not the first to throw up his hand, but you always knew he was listening and thinking,” Stoner said.
Stoner said it was fitting Larimer joined the Navy.
“I believed in his ability to contribute positively to his environment, to his classroom, a project, the rehearsal process,” Stoner said. “It makes me proud he found a way to contribute on a large scale. He certainly stood up for his beliefs ... and those are the people who should enlist in the military.”
During Larimer’s senior year, he participated in the school’s production of the “Laramie Project,” a play about about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard – who was gay – in Laramie, Wyo., and how the community of Laramie healed itself after the tragedy.
There were letters to the editor criticizing the play, and one writer said he didn’t believe an incident such as Shepard’s could happen in Crystal Lake.
Larimer defended the production and said Crystal Lake needed to understand what had happened in Laramie.
“Our high school is about as homogeneous 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 in a letter to the Northwest Herald in 2003. “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 Larimer defending the play was a special act for the school and those involved in the production.
“Once I saw his name attached, I was moved and incredibly proud,” Stoner said.
Brittney Venetucci, 26, of Hampshire, graduated with Larimer from Crystal Lake South. In 2001, they performed in a play called “The Curious Savage.”
Larimer joked around and was lighthearted, Venetucci said, and being in theater “gave him a chance to be expressive.”
“He was always a funny, quirky guy,” she said. “He was real smart, and always could light up a room. He was a real joy to be around.”
Venetucci and Larimer kept in touch via Facebook in the past year. She would say hi and see how he was doing in the Navy.
“He was enjoying it,” Venetucci said.
Venetucci said friends have been posting on Larimer’s Facebook page. One friend posted: “So sad, you never will be able to realize the potential you had.” Another said: “You could have done anything, I truly believe it.”
Another poster said any heated debates with Larimer about politics always ended in laughter, Venetucci said.
Venetucci was shocked there was a local connection to the Friday shooting.
“You hear about the shooting, [but] you don’t think anybody you know is affected,” she said.
Julie Gates, 38, who lives a couple of doors down from the Larimers’ house, occasionally would see John Larimer. She didn’t know him well, but said he was a nice person.
When Gates would walk her Shih Tzu, Riley, he would bark and growl at Larimer. That did not stop him from stopping to pet the dog.
“For this to happen is heartbreaking for that family,” Gates said. “He was fighting for our country, and for him to die in such a meaningless way, there’s no sense in that ... It shatters your community a little bit. ... You love all your neighbors. You keep track of your neighbors.”
Her daughter, Kristen, 11, remembered having a lemonade stand with a friend seven or eight years ago. A cup of lemonade cost 50 cents, but Larimer gave her $2.
Gates did not allow her children to ride bikes past the Larimers’ home, and John Larimer helped enforce that rule.
“We would go past that point, he would peek his head out, and tell us ‘You’re going a little too far,’ “ Kristen said.
State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi lives near the Larimers’ Crystal Lake home, although he doesn’t know the family.
He was jogging Saturday morning when he saw media trucks parked outside the home. That’s when he realized what had happened.
“Everyone in the neighborhood is devastated by this,” Bianchi said. “You feel like crying for the family. When it’s closer to home, you feel it more emotionally. I was really speechless.”
• Senior Editor Dan McCaleb contributed to this article.