HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) – Jill Wells has a photo album to look through with her children, 4-year-old Madison and 4-month-old Paityn.
It contains photos of her husband Larry, from his birth to the last night they shared with him. His last photo ever taken – true to his personality – was of the aftermath of playing dress up with his daughter. Larry was wearing a tiara and clip-on earrings, a huge smile plastered on his face.
All this was taken away from Jill and her children on a normal June morning when Larry Wells went to work.
“It was horrible. I still can picture everything. It was the worst day of my life,” Jill said.
She got the news from co-workers who came to her door and told her there was a stabbing at the Toys R Us. Larry was in the hospital. But by the time she arrived, he was already gone.
“So unfair,” Jill said.” I mean, he was just doing his job.”
And then to learn months later that Larry’s killer was his co-worker, loss prevention manager Bernie Grucza, the same man who returned to the crime scene to help police and comfort co-workers, was stunning.
“How can someone who just killed somebody go back to the store, pretend they didn’t do anything, then hug co-workers and tell them it’s going to be okay?” Jill wondered with disgust.
And days later, the killer offered his condolences in person at Larry’s funeral.
If she could say one thing to Grucza, Jill said she would ask, “Just why? Why ruin our family? Why ruin your family? I mean, for what?”
But Jill does not want Larry to be remembered as the man the Toys R Us killer stabbed to death. She wants him remembered as a loving dad who would do anything for his family.
“Oh my God, he was the best dad. He would do anything for Madison. He goofed around with her. On his days off he took her to Chuck E Cheese. Played with her,” Jill said.
Larry and Jill started dating at age 15 and never stopped. They went to college together, got married, and gave birth to an energetic girl who doesn’t just look like her dad, but shares his personality.
Then, 20 years after their first date, the couple learned they were expecting another child. A sonogram told them it was a girl. Larry said he liked the name Paityn.
So when she was born five months after his death, that’s what Jill named her. Paityn Laryn. And this baby is helping Jill through this dark time.
“She is the best baby. She’s the most smiley baby. She makes you happy,” Jill said.
Paityn never met her dad. But Jill and Maddy will make sure she knows him.
Jill said what she will miss most about her husband is, “Just being able to tell him everything. Watching him with Maddy. I’m not going to be able to see him with Paityn. That’s what I miss the most.”
Jill says they’ll never forget. But they will have to move forward.
She’ll stay strong for these girls, and make sure there is happiness in their lives. That’s exactly what Larry would want.
“He just loved. He just loved everybody, you know he loved us,” Jill said.
Gruzca is expected he will be sentenced to 25 years behind bars for first degree manslaughter. He admitted stabbing Larry to death, and his attorney claimed it was unintentional, that Grucza needed money for his ailing wife and didn’t expect Larry in the office. After the stabbing, Grucza robbed at least three other Toys R Us stores in Pennsylvania.
Jill doesn’t believe Grucza unintentionally killed her husband. She believes Grucza was worried that Larry knew he had been stealing from the store, and killed Larry to silence him. But she says what makes the tragedy senseless is that Grucza was mistaken. She believes Larry didn’t know anything about any thefts.
“I’m glad that he’s going to be put away for 25 years, but it still doesn’t bring Larry back to us. Nothing’s going to help the pain,” she said.
But Larry will live on in her heart, and in his children.
“We’ll always have him in our hearts,” Jill said. “He’ll be there with us.”