Crystal Lake family can’t reach son who was in Colorado theater
By Stefano Esposito and Lauren Fitzpatrick Staff Reporters July 20, 2012 5:20PM
John Larimer was killed in a shooting rampage at a theater in Aurora, CO, on Friday, July 20, 2012. | submitted photo | Sun-Times
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Updated: August 22, 2012 6:12AM
A Crystal Lake family spent an agonizing evening Friday, waiting to hear word about a relative who was inside the Colorado multiplex when a gunman opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding .
Scott Larimer knows for certain that his son, John Thomas Larimer, was inside the Aurora, Colo., theater during the rampage, but Friday afternoon, he couldn’t say whether John Larimer was “alive or dead.”
“We have literally been calling for 15 hours,” said Scott Larimer. “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.”
John Larimer is in the U.S. Navy and is stationed in Aurora, Colo. Larimer, originally from Crystal Lake, was attending the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” He was one of at least two local people who were inside the multiplex during the rampage.
Authorities said the gunman, wearing a gas mask and black SWAT gear, opened fire inside the crowded movie theater.
“I know for a fact that he was in the theater,” Scott Larimer said. “Right now, my wife is beside herself.”
Late Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense said three servicemen were injured at the multiplex and that one “male sailor” couldn’t be located. The department hadn’t released the names of any of the servicemen as of late Friday night.
Larimer family neighbor Julie Gates told the Sun-Times that she’d often seen John Larimer while she was out walking her dogs. They always growled at Larimer, “But John would just laugh, chuckle and pet my dogs.”
A couple of years ago, Gates’ 8-year-old daughter was selling lemonade on the street and Larimer stopped to buy some.
“He bought a cup and tipped her, too,” Gates recalled. “He’s a nice kid. It’s a nice family.”
Another local man, Steven Ostergaard, was watching the Batman movie on a separate screen in the same theater complex when the gunfire began. At the time, Ostergaard, 27, a special education middle school teacher from Lake Bluff, was chaperoning 11 teens and young adults who were in Aurora for a national stutterers conference.
Ostergaard said the movie had been running for about 10 minutes, when he started to notice smoke in the theater.
“At first, I thought it was special effects,” Ostergaard said by phone from his hotel in Colorado. “When I saw the smoke, I looked at one of the kids and said, ‘That’s actually in the theater. That’s kind of cool.’”
But very quickly, Ostergaard realized he was mistaken — when debris began to whizz by his head. It was too dark to see, but what Ostergaard thought was the sound of firecrackers was actually bullets coming through a partition wall into the theater.
And then one of his charges, an 18-year-old from Ohio, got hit.
“He said, ‘Ow! It hit me. I’m bleeding,’” Ostergaard said.
Ostergaard quickly rushed the teen out into the lobby, and saw that he was covered in blood.
“At that point, I began to hear multiple gunshots,” Ostergaard said.
Moviegoers were pouring out into the lobby and people were screaming, Ostergaard said.
Ostergaard said he made sure all of his charges were safely out of the theater and in the parking lot. By that time, police — with weapons drawn — were swarming around the theater complex.
“People were screaming and crying, passing out,” Ostergaard said. “I saw people with bloody faces, with blood all over their backs.”
Ostergaard, who was attending the conference with his parents and sister, said the injured 18-year-old has been treated and released from the hospital. He also said the conference, which runs through Sunday, will go on as planned. He said grief counselors are on hand to help those in need of support.
Contributing: Dan Rozek