Larry Wells had a lot of loves in his life, including his high school sweetheart, Jill Lucas.
They graduated from Pine Valley Central High School and Fredonia State College together. They married and brought their daughter, Madison, into the world. Wells especially loved spending his spare time with his daughter, at a pizza joint or a nearby park.
He also adored teaching, as a long-term substitute in the Frontier and Hamburg schools, where former students remembered how he made his fourth-grade classroom a fun place to learn. And he loved his four favorite teams, the Yankees, Bills, Sabres and Ohio State basketball, often wearing Buckeyes hats and jackets.
That passion-filled life ended over the weekend, when Laurence C. Wells II was fatally stabbed inside his office while working as an assistant manager at Toys R Us in Hamburg.
Larry Wells was only 35, and the Blasdell resident never got to see his second child. His wife, Jill, is pregnant.
“Certainly, we’re glad to welcome a new grandchild,” said his father-in-law, Ronald Lucas, of South Dayton. “But under these circumstances, a little child will grow up without a father.”
Hamburg town police are hoping the DNA found on his apparent attacker’s baseball cap will provide a match in CODIS, the DNA database.
But detectives, many of whom have worked more than 12 hours a day on the case, still aren’t sure why Wells was attacked.
“The facts of the case don’t convince us one way or the other,” Capt. Kevin A. Trask said Tuesday. “We can’t say it wasn’t a botched robbery. And we can’t say it wasn’t a personal vendetta. But we haven’t discovered any evidence of ill feeling toward the victim.”
Hamburg detectives have continued their investigation, fielding tips about the Florida Gators basketball cap the attacker left behind, awaiting the Erie County district attorney’s rush order for the DNA test, checking other businesses’ surveillance cameras within a 2-mile radius and conducting ground and aerial searches.
A grainy surveillance tape from Toys R Us has provided some evidence.
Investigators believe that the killer entered the store through the Babies R Us entrance, either finding an open door, jimmying the lock or having someone open the door for him. Video surveillance shows that a man entered Wells’ tiny office when it was empty, shut the door behind him and then dismantled the video surveillance system about seven minutes later.
Investigators believe that Wells was stabbed two or three times in his head, shoulder and torso, from the side or back, sometime within a half-hour window, from about 4:40 to 5:10 a.m. Saturday.
Homicides in Hamburg are rare.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics show zero murders in the town or village from 2008 through 2012, although Buffalo News archives show that a woman in the Village of Hamburg was convicted of second-degree murder after killing her 72-year-old fiancé in October 2008.
Violence is such a stranger to the town that on Saturday morning, when customers at the Odyssey Family Restaurant, just a short drive down Milestrip Road from the Toys R Us, saw the unusual amount of police activity, some folks wrote it off as a practice exercise, restaurant owner-operator Tom Hatzinerantzis said Tuesday.
“It was just shocking that this happened in our community,” he said before referring to the normal crime pattern. “It’s usually just stolen bikes, things like that.”
Still, Hatzinerantzis said he has noticed a recent increase in area crime, pointing to the robbery of an M&T Bank branch just up the road in May as evidence. Saturday morning’s killing was enough to make him consider purchasing a gun to help protect himself and his business, and he has since made calls to local firearms training centers to ask about getting a gun license.
Wells’ killing “makes you think,” said Hatzinerantzis, who sometimes starts work early in the morning and often is the last person to leave.
“You wonder if nowhere’s safe,” he added.
Loved ones remembering Wells – who grew up in Leon in Cattaraugus County – said he was an accomplished running back at Pine Valley High School, part of a juggernaut offense that routinely scored over 40 points a game. In the Section VI Class D-2 championship game at Rich Stadium in 1994, he scored two touchdowns in a 41-6 victory and was named co-winner of the Jim Braxton Award for the top offensive performance in Class D-2.
In his senior year, during one 59-14 romp, he scored twice, on a 10-yard run and a 90-yard kickoff return.
“He had very quick feet,” remembered his former coach, Robert Krenzer.
Krenzer’s wife, Pat, who was Wells’ social studies teacher, remembered her reaction to hearing how he died.
“Not Larry,” she said. “Things like that don’t happen to people like Larry. He was a kind and quiet soul. To die violently was the antithesis of what he was like.”
After high school, Wells earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Fredonia State in 2000 and a later a master’s degree from Walden University, as he began working as an elementary school teacher.
“Mr. Wells was my 4th grade teacher,” a Hamburg woman wrote on The Buffalo News obituary Guest Book. “He made learning so much fun for our class and will be missed by all.”
In an era of teacher cutbacks, Wells couldn’t land a permanent teaching job, so he went into retail, working as a Toys R Us manager for the last seven years.
“But teaching was his first love,” said his father-in-law, Lucas. “He loved kids. He just loved teaching.”
By all accounts, Wells turned into a popular store manager, as well.
“Larry was one of the best managers I have ever had,” one co-worker wrote on the Guest Book.
“Not only was he a great manager, but a great friend as well. He could always make you smile.”
One person who knew Wells had these words for a reporter writing about him.
“Just do him justice,” this person said. “He deserved it.”
Surviving, besides his wife and daughter, are his parents, Laurence S. Wells and Debra Mansfield, and a brother, Robbie.
Services for Wells will be at 11 a.m. Thursday in Riles & Woolley Funeral Home, 39 Main St., Forestville.