Whitewater community grieves the death of a graduate

John Larimer was among 12 killed at Colorado movie theater
Whitewater community grieves the death of a graduate

The news of a Wisconsin tie to the Colorado shootings has reached the Whitewater community, causing a new wave of shock and sadness about the horrific events.

27-year-old University Of Wisconsin Whitewater graduate John Larimer was killed by the Aurora movie theater gunman early Friday morning.

While he left the university in 2008 after earning a double major in political science and history, his death is linking a tight-knit group of students, staff, and neighbors to a national tragedy.

During Sunday’s services at Whitewater’s First United Methodist Church, cloudy skies hovered over the steeples located right down the road from Larimer’s alma mater.

A number of congregation members taught at the university, and the news of Larimer’s death brought national headlines close to home.

Too close.


Congregation member Elaine Frietsch recalled a reading she had Sunday morning. In it, she said, “God causes all things to work together for good. And I thought, ‘Wow, how is He going to work this one out?'”

The Whitewater campus is virtually empty for the summer months, apart from a few campers or people sticking it out until the next semester starts.

Laptop in hand, 2011 graduate Walter Wells thinks if everyone were in town, it would be a scene of constant conversation about the incident and memorials honoring the fallen alumnus.

“Whether you know the person or not,” Wells explained, “you just feel for the person’s family and everything that’s happened.”

The loss is something faculty members are feeling across state lines. UW-Whitewater’s Political Science Department Chair Susan Johnson had Larimer in class years ago, but remembers him as a quiet and hard-working student. She said the university will come together to remember him.

Johnson said, “Even students who didn’t know John would have considered it to be, you know, an important member of the campus community that is no longer with us.”

Larimer was a petty officer for the Navy when he became one of the dozen killed just after midnight Friday morning.

At a press conference at Buckley Air Force Base, Navy Commander Jeffrey Jakubowski said of Larimer, “He was an outstanding shipmate, a valued member of our Navy team, and an extremely dedicated sailor.”

“He truly did have a bright future ahead of him in the Navy,” Jakubowski continued. “This was his first Navy command, and he was accelerating in all aspects of our command mission, and he was doing extraordinarily well. He will be truly missed by all that knew him.”

Larimer is originally from Crystal Lake, Ill. A military team stopped by his family’s home Saturday. Relatives told the media they will release a statement soon, but not much more was said.

“He was a wonderful young man,” Larimer’s aunt Karen Lavin told the media.

Larimer’s brother is working with the Navy to bring his body back to Illinois.

Back at the church, the entire congregation offered up a prayer to Larimer and his family, because sometimes, they said, that’s all there is left to do.

Meanwhile, the father of a 27-year-old Wisconsin native also shot in the theater said his son is walking with the help of a walker.

Carey Rottman was shot in the leg. He’s a native of Mequon, Wis., who studied business at Winona State in Minnesota.

His father Dale Rottman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his son is doing well after surgery. He said he’s expected to undergo a second surgery on his leg and a skin graft between Sunday and Tuesday. He could be released from the hospital by Thursday.

He said his son will likely need physical therapy to recover, but the bullet did not damage his tendons or arteries.

His father said many friends have visited him.

A 15-year-old Plymouth girl was in an adjacent theater when the gunman began shooting. Katie Trakel was not hurt. But she told The Sheboygan Press a stray bullet went through the wall and hit one of her friends in the arm.