CRYSTAL LAKE – Scott and Kathleen Larimer stood under a veil of trees at Union Cemetery, protected from the mist but fully exposed to the weight of the moment.
And yet the two, who lost their son John Larimer to the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., last July, were graceful in their acceptance of support shown both tangibly – they were presented with a framed replica of their son’s recently donated brick paver – and through kind words, handshakes and hugs.
During an event they’ve attended and participated in for decades, the Larimers took on a new role during Monday’s damp, unseasonably cold Memorial Day Parade and Cemetery Service.
The weather might have driven some away, but it didn’t stop hundreds from lining Franklin Avenue, Williams Street and Woodstock Street, and then crowding around a newly renovated Union Soldier Statue for a service to honor those who’ve fought and fallen for their country.
“Crystal Lake has been very good to us from when we first brought him home to today,” Scott Larimer said after the ceremony and between condolences. “We’re coming up to the one-year anniversary, and it’s just helped us make it through this very tough year.”
Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley led the proceedings, introducing several performances from the Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge high school marching bands and cuing a color guard salute and playing of taps. Crystal Lake South played a selection in honor of John Larimer, who was in the band and marched in the Memorial Day parade as a high schooler.
Larimer was one of 12 people killed in July during a shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater. A 2003 Crystal Lake South graduate and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class, Larimer died at age 27 while shielding his girlfriend, who went unharmed.
After Scott and Kathleen Larimer were presented the plaque, Tom Aellig, commander of American Legion Post 171, which conducts the event, spoke more generally about the importance of honoring men and women in service.
“I’m always in awe of every man and woman that serves,” Aellig said. “In the world that we live in today, it’s inspiring to see these brave citizens who honor our nation with their sacrifices so the rest of us can enjoy the life that we do.”
Before the service, people slumped into lawn chairs and wrapped themselves in blankets as they awaited the parade. They gripped coffee cups with both hands, huddled under umbrellas and sported rain jackets with hoods draped over their heads.
It was a far cry from last year’s parade, when temperatures reached the mid-90s.
“We liked the weather last year, when it was 95,” said Rebecca Hagenow, of Crystal Lake, who was watching her two sons in the Crystal Lake Central band.
Her husband, Ernie Hagenow, remembered a couple of band members falling victim to the heat last year.
“So they’re like every kid gets a water bottle,” he said. “I’m like, ‘They’re not going to need it this year.’”
The couple’s sons came through shortly thereafter, among a quick procession of veterans, scouts and music. The parade started at 11 a.m. By 12:15 p.m., the cemetery service had ended and people were filing out.
As they did, Scott Larimer took a minute to reflect. Growing up, he marched in Memorial Day parades as a high school band member, and he watched four out of his five children do the same. He’s been in them for his involvement with Boy Scouts, too.
“So, yes, I’ve been at a few Memorial Day parades,” he said. “This one just has a little more of a different flavor to it.”
And then someone else came by to offer their condolences. A woman patted Scott Larimer on the shoulder, a quick gesture so as to not interrupt his current conversation.
“Oh, come on,” he said cheerfully. “I get a hug out of the deal.”