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updated: 10/3/2017 7:19 AM

Mom whose son died in Colorado shooting feels Las Vegas victims' pain

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  • Kathleen Larimer of Crystal Lake says Monday's mass killings in Las Vegas reminded her of the ordeal the victims' families face. Her son, John, was shot to death by a mass killer in Colorado five years ago.

      Kathleen Larimer of Crystal Lake says Monday's mass killings in Las Vegas reminded her of the ordeal the victims' families face. Her son, John, was shot to death by a mass killer in Colorado five years ago.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • John Larimer was killed saving two lives in a mass shooting in a Colorado theater in 2012.

    John Larimer was killed saving two lives in a mass shooting in a Colorado theater in 2012.
    Photo courtesy of Kathleen Larimer

 
 

For Kathleen Larimer of Crystal Lake, Monday's mass shooting was a painful reminder of what she went through five years ago -- and what scores of families now face.

Her reaction upon hearing the news was "one of shock and horror that it happened again, and on a bigger scale."

"I think of all those families whose lives have been changed forever," she said.

Larimer knows all too well. Her son, John, was one of 12 people killed July 20, 2012, by a gunman in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. A Naval intelligence officer, he died using his body to shield his date and a stranger in the adjacent seat.

The Las Vegas shooting dredged up memories of the ordeal for Larimer -- of when she tried to reach her son after the shootings. The process of identifying the victims, she says, "took hours and hours." Unanswered calls to John's cellphone added to the worry.

And now, even more people are being subjected to tortuous waits for news of loved ones. "It's all those different things you do," Larimer said, "you're hoping for the best and trying not to think of the worst."

She is a member of the group, "No Notoriety," which asks the media to show restraint in its coverage of mass shootings, particularly pertaining to coverage of the killers. The group, founded by the parents of another Colorado shooting victim, asks the media to limit use of the killers' names and photos after initial identification, refrain from publishing manifestoes and other self-serving statements -- in short, anything that could give another disturbed individual a sign such killings are to be emulated.

Much as experts document a suicide catagion, No Notoriety suggests the same is likely for mass killings.

Larimer wrote a poignant essay on the topic for the Daily Herald last month. It can be found at dailyherald.com by putting her name in the search engine.

And while media restraint might be a good first step, Larimer acknowledges she wishes she knew what she, what anyone, can do "to keep this from happening again."

"I wish I had an answer to what it takes to make a man -- and most of these shooters are men -- kill people," she said, and suggested they might do it "to make themselves feel better somehow."

Still, Larimer's thoughts are predominantly with the victims' families and the road ahead. If the grief weren't enough, there are the charity scams. Yes, she says, fly-by-night charities might pop up for no purpose other than to steal money. But other, theoretically reputable charities raise money in the names of victims, then use it for other purposes. That happened in Colorado, she says. A local nonprofit "used the names and the faces of the 12 killed to raise money and gave it to other nonprofits," such as blood banks and mental health groups. In some mass killings, Larimer says, victims received none of the money raised.

She endorses the National Compassion Fund, a group set up by victims and families from past mass casualty crimes, and one that says 100 percent of the money raised is put in the hands of the families of those who died or were severely injured.

The injured. That's another lesson Larimer learned after her son was shot to death. In attending the trial of John's killer, Larimer realized there were people who were severely injured and will never be the same.

"You hear the word 'survivors' and you think, 'They're going to be OK.' That isn't always the case."

Larimer saw three people who remain in wheelchairs.

Another woman, she said, had a leg injury so severe, she had to be carried down the aisle when she was married.

More recently, Larimer witnessed U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise walking with a cane during his return to Congress.

These injuries bring pain to their families, too.

As do the deaths, of course.

"I understand their pain, and I know what they're going to be facing," Larimer said. "I wish them the strength to get through it."

• Editor's note: The Daily Herald's guidelines on coverage of mass killings are in keeping with the tenets of No Notoriety. We publish the name of the accused upon first identification, then sparingly in subsequent references. A mug shot photo usually runs inside the paper. Sensationalistic details about the crime, and of the accused, are kept to a minimum.

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