“I don’t ever want to forget this man:” Memories of James Farmer, 62, who saved Denver teens

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Aidan Brown hugs his mom, Linda. A memorial service for James Farmer Jr. at the St. Francis Center, June 27, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; james farmer jr.; st. francis center; homeless; funeral; kevinjbeaty;

Aidan Brown hugs his mom, Linda. A memorial service for James Farmer Jr. at the St. Francis Center, June 27, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Linda Brown was traveling abroad when she got the call.

“They told me that my son was lucky to be alive,” she recalled, “and that somebody came to his rescue and died in the process.”

It’s been exactly two weeks. Brown and her son, Aidan, have put together flashes of an awful night in Denver that left their family indebted to a man they’ll never meet.

Aidan was walking with a friend through the Ballpark area, near the intersection of 24th and Curtis, at about 4 a.m. on June 16.

“I think he was showing off, trying to show her the neighborhood,” Brown said. Suddenly, a man on the other side of the street started sprinting toward the teenagers, as Brown recounted. (She wasn’t there, but has spoken to her son and a homicide detective, she said.)

The assault was fast and brutal: “I think he got knocked out, and then he was repeatedly kicked in the head,” she said.

And when Aidan awoke, he saw an older man’s body on the ground next to him, according to his mother. It was the corpse of James Farmer, Jr., a 62-year-old man who had been living in a Saab near the site of the assault.

It’s unclear what exactly happened, but a homicide detective told Brown that Farmer had intervened in the assault, she said. An officer’s sworn statement indicated that the attacker struck Farmer multiple times in the chest. (A 28-year-old suspect has been arrested)

“I would have called 911 or something, but he did get out of his car,” she said. She called Farmer an “incredible person,” who acted with little concern for his own safety to save another man.

“Aidan is 6-foot-4. He looks like an adult, but he’s a child,” said Brown, a teacher. In fact, Aidan is just weeks out of a local high school. The attack left him with black eyes and a broken nose, his mother said.

Who was James Farmer?

Farmer was a veteran of the U.S. Army. His family lives in Seattle, but he had traveled to Denver in search of work. He was preparing to marry this year and also was sending back money to support his five granddaughters.

He lived in his car to save money, his family said, and got help with basic services from the St. Francis Center, just a block from where he died.

“He was well remembered, and just kind of a feature at the center that people counted on. It’s quite a big loss for a community that is already quite transient — to have a constant member,” Brown said. (Aidan was unavailable for an interview on Thursday due to an unrelated medical procedure.)

Farmer’s memorial service, shown in the video above, was held at the St. Francis Center this week. He was remembered not just by the Browns and by the center’s staff, but also by the staff of the Denver Public Library, where he was a regular, and by the people who had come to see him as a reliable presence.

“There’s no greater love than to lay one’s life for another. The Bible’s words strike true today for James, whom we remember as someone who gave his life so that another might live,” said Tom Luehrs, the director of the center.

In an interview, he reflected that outsiders often are surprised that people are the center “are kind, that they say thank you … It’s the gap between what we know about someone and what we learn about someone that changes our perception of who people are.”