UNC-Charlotte shooting victim Riley Howell heroically tackled the gunman, saving lives, police say
On Tuesday of final exam week, a man armed with a pistol opened fire on a classroom at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. He killed two people, 21-year-old Riley Howell and 19-year-old Ellis Parlier, while wounding four others. Authorities identified the injured students as Drew Pescaro, 19; Sean Dehart, 20; Rami Alramadhan, 20; and Emily Houpt, 23.
Police captured the gunman, identified as 22-year-old former student Trystan Terrell, and took him into custody. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters that the suspect legally purchased the handgun and intentionally targeted the Kennedy Building, where the rampage occurred. The class in session reportedly had about 100 students, and 30 were present at the time of the shooting,
The massacre would have been worse, however, if not for the courageous actions of Riley Howell. The police chief told reporters that Howell confronted Terrell in a campus building and "took the suspect off his feet." In the process, the 21-year-old was fatally shot point blank, and likely the shooting's last fatality.
"You're either gonna run, gonna hide and shield, or you're gonna take the fight to the assailant," Putney said, per Fox News. "Having no place to run and hide, [Howell] did the last."
The police chief said it would be an "understatement" to say Howell tackled the suspect, but it "would be appropriate, and had he not done so, the gunman "might not have been disarmed." "Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives," Putney said. "What he did was he took the assailant off his feet, and then the heroes that we have here were able to apprehend him from there."
On Wednesday, Howell's aunt, Morgan Howell Moylan, told CNN: "He did such a heroic thing. It was absolutely no surprise. In fact, I have four children who so look up to him. Every one of them said, 'Of course, he was the hero -- 100% of course he'd run toward the shooter.' He was everybody's protector. You felt safe when you were with Riley."
Howell grew up on a farm with three younger siblings in Waynesville, North Carolina, and aspired to become a firefighter or join the military. "His faith was strong and he knew what he had to do when people needed him most," his family said in a statement. "He was always the guy you could count on and he delivered."
Kevin Westmoreland, the father of Howell's longtime girlfriend, Lauren, described Howell as athletic and compassionate. "If Lauren was with Riley, he would step in front of a train for her if he had to,” Westmoreland said, per the Associated Press. "I didn’t realize it might come to that for somebody else." Riley and Lauren dated for six years.
The shooting suspect is facing two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and one count each of possession of a firearm on educational property and discharging a firearm, police said.