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St. Thomas student killed in fire had Willmar roots

WILLMAR -- A University of St. Thomas student who died in a house fire Saturday was the son of Willmar natives and the grandson of two Willmar couples.

Michael Adam Larson, 20, died in the fire after alerting others in the house in St. Paul. His roommates were able to jump from second-floor windows to safety.

Larson was the son of Tom and Julia Larson and Denise (Westerman) and Doug Schow, all of Woodbury. He was the grandson of Richard and Betty Larson and Duane and Marti Westerman, all of Willmar.

"He was the hero in the fire," Betty Larson said Tuesday.

It's likely that no one will ever exactly why her grandson didn't make it out of the house, she added.

"He was asthmatic," she said, so he may have been overcome by smoke.

Larson said it was difficult for family to believe the news at first, and it took until Tuesday before the truth of her grandson's death began to sink in. She said the grandparents have been trying to help where they can and give Michael's parents their space.

"I feel for my son so bad," she said. "It must be hard to lose a child."

His grandmother recalled Michael as a family oriented kid who was "a really loving, fun-loving guy," an intelligent young man who was focused on his future.

He was a sophomore at St. Thomas and had recently switched his major to journalism. He had hoped to get an internship to spend a summer living with grandparents and writing for the West Central Tribune sports department, she said.

Larson said she has learned through the Facebook pages set up in Michael's honor that her grandson had a wide circle of friends. Many fellow students packed the chapel on campus for a prayer service Sunday evening, prompting Michael's parents to hold his memorial service there.

The service will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, with visitation from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the chapel. Lunch will be served after the service on campus.

Larson said the University of St. Thomas is handling arrangements for the service and luncheon.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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