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SLAYING TOUCHES LIVES OF THOUSANDS WHO KNEW VICTIM AS THEIR FRIEND

SHARE SLAYING TOUCHES LIVES OF THOUSANDS WHO KNEW VICTIM AS THEIR FRIEND

It's estimated that more than 20,000 people are murdered every year - an average of one victim every 37 minutes.

But cold, hard statistics do not tell the story of Bruce Larson, nor do they explain why he was shot to death March 28.Larson, 40, was a businessman acclaimed for his integrity, a devoted husband and father of five children. He was a church leader, serving many years as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and, at the time of his death, as a counselor in a stake presidency. He volunteered thousands of hours to serve others in need of temporal or spiritual comfort.

People like him are not gunned down; there's just no reason for it. But for reasons no one yet fully understands, a man walked onto a Salt Lake County construction site and, without a word, began firing a .38-caliber revolver at Larson. Larson died of gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

Gene Woodland, who goes by the moniker Captain Nemo and is a former owner of the property under construction, has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing. (See related story on A2.)

"The type of person he was, he probably doesn't hold it against (the killer) for what he did," said Karen Larson, his wife of 19 years.

"Had (the killer) known Bruce, he wouldn't have killed him," added Larson's mother, May Larson Darrington. "Everyone who knew him loved him. You couldn't help it."

Larson's death affected more than just his family. It has affected the lives of literally thousands who knew him, worked with him and were touched by his compassion.

The Larson home has been flooded with phone calls. "Seems like everyone says the same thing, that he was their very best friend," said Karen Larson. "He had that kind of effect on people."

When a public viewing was held Sunday night, it took six hours for everyone to make their way past the casket. An estimated 4,000 people came to pay their respects.

"There were great leaders and little kids, some waiting hours to pay their respects," said Robert Roylance, president of the LDS Church's Sandy Crescent West Stake. "He had a remarkable effect on people."

Many who paid their respects had been touched by Larson over the years. He was, in fact, a man who sought after opportunities to help others, whether it was an elderly widow in need of financial assistance or someone needing a shoulder to cry on.

On one occasion, a wheelchair-bound man with muscular dystrophy needed a van to get about. Larson organized a neighborhood fund-raiser, and when the collection came up several hundred dollars short he gladly made up the difference out of his own pocket.

On another occasion, a neighborhood woman lost her husband. Larson and his wife spent hours offering comfort, as well as helping the lady clean house and wash clothes.

And every year, Larson's financial assistance provided Christmas to countless families who could not otherwise afford it. And without exception he did it anonymously.

"He never took credit for anything," said Jerry Larson, a brother. "Most times, they never knew it was him who did it. That's just the way he wanted it. What he had been given he viewed as his to give to others."

Those who worked with Larson on a daily basis were continually impressed by his impeccable honesty. Contractors, suppliers and employees all praised Larson as a man who never compromised his beliefs or moral standards.

He had a reputation of one who paid his bills on time, paid his employees well and did a quality job, all with an overriding sense of ethics and responsibility. His sense of personal responsibility toward all he met earned him legions of friends long after the job was finished.

Bruce Larson was raised on the family farm in Garland near Brigham City, one of five children to make their home on land settled by Bruce's grandfather. He graduated from Bear River High School, served an LDS Church mission to southeast Mexico and later graduated from Brigham Young University, remaining a fanatical Cougar fan.

He first met Karen at BYU in April 1971, and they were married in August. Nineteen years later, they were living the American dream: Successful business, loving family, immaculate two-story home.

Through it all, Karen often would comment to her husband that she could survive anything except him dying. "Now he's helping me survive that, too," she said.

Karen finds comfort in a lesson Bruce repeatedly taught their children - one that was repeated by their 9-year-old son upon learning of his father's death: "Things happen and what's done is done and we should just be happy."

People say Larson was the kind of man who in 19 years of marriage never once argued with his wife. And in 12 years of business he never once had a fight with his business partner.

"He never even spoke a harsh word. Never once," said longtime business partner Harry Peacock. "He was good at talking things out."

He never used foul language or told dirty jokes, yet had a way of making the rowdiest construction worker feel comfortable around him. "He always used to tell me, `People have different standards, but that doesn't make them any less of a person,' " said Larson's 17-year-old son, Jared.

Larson repeatedly taught his children that all people must be treated with respect and love. "He was a Christian in the truest sense," said Roylance.

Ironically, it was Larson's sense of responsibility that put him in the position that claimed his life. After years of non-payment for work performed, Peacock and Larson Construction had foreclosed on Gene Woodland's building project, then about 70-percent completed.

Peacock and Larson needed the $385,000 Woodland owed them to pay subcontractors and suppliers. In a routine legal proceeding, the court found in favor of the construction company.

Later, when Woodland filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the property was subsequently sold at a sheriff's auction. Peacock and Larson was the only company to bid on it.

"We didn't want it, but we had a responsibility to protect our subcontractors and our suppliers," Peacock said. The construction company immediately put the property up for sale. It was Bruce Larson's name and number on the marquee for interested buyers to call.

The construction company recently completed negotiations to lease the building to another business. But as part of the lease agreement Peacock and Larson agreed to finish the building to the point of meeting certain building codes.

Crews were working to meet the new leasee's specifications when Larson was shot to death.

"We'd talked for months about just walking away from it," Karen said. "But he felt a responsibility to make sure the subs and suppliers were paid. That was more important."