As family members traveled to Denver Saturday to claim the body of Crystal Lake South High School graduate John Larimer, the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting victim's former teachers and neighbors mourned a young man known for his unassuming nature and his strong sense of social justice.
"He was a unique individual with a really strong idea of right and wrong," said Ben Stoner, Crystal Lake South High School English teacher and theater director.
He said Larimer "felt moved only at the most crucial times to speak up on behalf of his very strong values and beliefs."
Upon hearing the news of Larimer's passing, Stoner, of West Dundee, found himself Saturday experiencing "a whirlwind of great memories from him."
Perhaps the most distinct one, Stoner said, involved Larimer taking a stance on a theater production the school was putting on that Stoner said "ignited quite a bit of community discourse."
The play, "The Laramie Project," is centered around the aftermath of the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Larimer played the role of writer Greg Pierotti.
Stoner Saturday remembered a letter to the editor in the Northwest Herald that had been written criticizing a "liberal play and the liberal agenda."
Larimer, Stoner said, read the letter and responded with his own.
"I didn't know he had done so until after it was published. It was beautiful. A letter speaking out against a member of the community who just didn't have the whole story."
Stoner said Larimer felt it was his duty to be a spokesman about the learning and growth involved from participating in the play that shed light on an important social concern.
"I cannot remember a single student that felt it was his place to make that statement in that way," Stoner said.
Stoner had not spoken with Larimer, who last year became a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, in several years.
"I did not know he had joined the military but it made sense to me," he said. "Here was a young man who was gifted in so many ways. A young man who did believe he was accountable for his community and society and he needed to apply his gifts to a greater cause."
Larimer's parents released a statement Saturday that Navy officials notified them around midnight that their 27-year-old son was one of the 12 killed in the shootings at the theater during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
"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," according to the statement.
"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."
An American flag was lifted in the breeze Saturday from a pole on the Larimer family's garage.
Karin Lavin of Wonder Lake is Larimer's aunt, and she left the family home around 2 p.m. Saturday. Lavin said the family was planning to celebrate her grandmother's 100th birthday later in the day. About 35 family members still planned to gather for the occasion, she said, with sorrow hanging over them.
"It's a terrible, terrible loss," she said.
Three naval representatives went inside the family home a few minutes before noon Saturday and stayed for about 30 minutes.
McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi, who lives in the same neighborhood as the Larimers, expressed his condolences and said he reflected on the tragedy during a 6-mile run.
Bianchi noted the shooting made him concerned about people who could wind up losing mental health services because of state budget cuts.
"It's time for everyone in the community to march against violence," Bianchi said.
During a Saturday evening teleconference, Larimer's commanding officer, Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakubowski, said five sailors attended the movie late Thursday night. Two suffered injuries.
Jakubowski said that by 7:35 p.m. Friday naval officials had confirmed that Larimer was one of the victims. The family was notified within three hours, Jakubowski said.
His voice cracking with emotion, Jakubowski described Larimer -- a cryptologic technician specializing in collection, processing and analysis of communication signals -- as an "outstanding shipmate, a valued member of our Navy team, and an extremely dedicated sailor."
Other sailors, he said, were drawn to Larimer's "calming demeanor and outstanding work ethic."
A family member said Larimer is the youngest of five siblings. A 2003 graduate of Crystal Lake South High School, Larimer trained at the Great Lakes Naval Academy and was stationed at the Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., for about a year.
Neighbors gathering outside the family home described the Larimers as a kind and close-knit family.
Julie Gates described Larimer as having a good sense of humor; when she would walk her dogs, they would growl at him, yet he would still pet them. She also recalled a time when her daughter set up a lemonade stand and Larimer stopped to buy a glass, and left a good tip.
Services have yet to be announced.
• Daily Herald staff writers Christopher Placek and Elena Ferrarin contributed to this report.