Riley Howell, who was praised as a hero who “took the fight to” the UNCC shooter, saving lives, was named as one of the two victims who died in the terrifying mass shooting on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus.
An ROTC cadet, Howell, 21, tackled the gunman as the shooter opened fire in a classroom, knocking the gunman off his feet. Howell gave his life protecting his classmates, police confirmed. Riley’s body was escorted back to his hometown on May 2, 2019:
“He was the kind of person who you knew would take care of you the moment you met him, and he always did. He radiated love and always will. As a friend said, ‘Beautiful souls like Riley are always with us in the way they made life more beautiful,'” his heartbroken family said in a statement.
The family described Howell in moving detail as “truly a one of a kind guy. He loved all things outdoors, adventure, and especially family. He loved to work outside and when he worked, he did it with his hands and his heart. He always was able to put others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone who needed it. He was friends with anyone and everyone – a big, muscular guy with a huge heart. He loved Star Wars, birds, cars, snowboarding, going to the lake, Kentucky Hot Browns, cooking from scratch with cast iron while listening to the Feel Good Classic Soul playlist, and his Lauren. He could also put away a pizza.”
Riley’s parents, Thomas and Natalie, are expressing great pride in their son. “We are just beyond proud of what he was able to do,” Natalie Henry-Howell, Riley’s mother, told the Today Show. “While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter.”
“If he was in the room when something like that was happening, and he had turned away, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself.”
The shooting – allegedly by a former History student – sent students running from campus, hiding behind barricaded classroom doors, and sharing photos and videos on social media. When the dust settled, two promising young students lay dead at the scene and another four were injured; police said three of the wounded suffered life-threatening wounds and the fourth did not.
UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois said during an appearance on WBT Radio that the victims killed in the shooting have been identified as Ellis Parlier, 19, of Midland, North Carolina, and Howell, of Waynesville, North Carolina. Drew Pescaro, 19, of Apex, North Carolina; Sean Dehart, 20, of Apex, North Carolina; Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saudi Arabia; and Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte, have been identified by Dubois as the injured victims.
“Everyone in this community stands in shock and grief,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles in a news conference. “…It is a time of unity.”
The gunman did not know the victims, police said.
Here’s what you need to know about Riley Howell, his heroism, and his life:
Riley Howell Heroically Jumped on the Gunman to Save Others & Police Called Him the ‘First & Foremost Hero’
Riley Howell is being hailed as a hero. The first news of his quick-thinking, courageous actions in the face of an active shooter came from sources to the news media; the police chief then confirmed that the young man known for his athleticism had given his life for those of others.
Sources told WSOC-TV that Howell jumped on the gunman in the classroom to save others.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney praised Howell in a news conference.
“He’s an athletically built young man and he took the fight to the assailant… he saved lives doing so. What he did was he took the assailant off his feet, and then the heroes we have here (police officers) were able to apprehend him,” Kerr said.
“When you talk about heroism…the first and foremost hero, as far as I am concerned, and his name is Riley Howell,” the chief added.
“He was probably the second fatality in this incident. His family, as you might imagine, is traumatized, devastated. But when I spoke to the father, one father to another, I told him personally I wish I had words…What I did tell him is we are committed to the work. We are going to get to the bottom of it. We are going to find out the why.”
Putney said that Howell took “the fight to the assailant.” He said he had “no place to run and hide.” If it wasn’t for Howell, “the assailant might not have been disarmed,” said Putney. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process, but his sacrifice saved lives.”
A fellow classmate said on Twitter that Howell was in the ROTC and would have been in the military after college. “Riley Howell was an ROTC cadet and on his way to be an officer. He promised to fight for his country and lost his life in a heroic act. He was said to have jumped on the gunman…..Rest easy to a hero named Riley,” the student tweeted.
North Carolina State Rep. Brian Turner wrote on Facebook, “I learned this morning that T.C. Roberson High School alum Riley Howell was among the victims of the deadly shooting yesterday at UNC Charlotte. Part of the alert that the school sent out yesterday said ‘Run, Hide, Fight.’ Early reports say Riley chose to fight and was fatally shot while attempting to physically confront and stop the shooter. This selfless act would have delayed the shooter giving police more time to respond and prevented further deaths.”
Turner added, “Riley Howell will be remembered for his courage, for the life he lived, and for the lives he saved. I ask you to join me in keeping Riley’s family in your prayers.”
A friend of Howell’s longtime girlfriend, Lauren Westmoreland, had asked for help Tuesday night in a tweet that spread across social media, but sadly, officials confirmed Wednesday morning that Howell was one of two students killed in the shooting.
Westmoreland wrote on Facebook on Tuesday, “I just don’t really have any words. I keep hoping and hoping I will wake up from this awful dream, but I know that I won’t. I don’t know what to do, but I thank you for everyone who is reaching out to his family and my family and me. Keep us in your thoughts for the dark days to come ?”
At an afternoon news conference, UNC Charlotte Police Chief Jeffrey Baker brought forth the first two officers on the scene and also praised their actions. “We don’t sit. We don’t wait. We go,” the chief said. “We’re going to go to the assailant, and that’s what they did.”
Riley Howell Was a Graduate of T.C. Roberson High School Who Was Majoring in Environmental Studies
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, Riley Howell graduated from T.C. Roberson High School. He is from Waynesville, North Carolina.
At UNCC, he was a junior majoring in environmental studies. “Riley Howell, of Waynesville, NC, was a 21-year-old Environmental Studies major who enrolled in UNC Charlotte in Fall 2018 as a transfer from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College,” the chancellor wrote in a statement.
“Riley loved the outdoors, and Star Wars, and pizza; he played soccer and ran cross country in high school and was described by those close to him as upbeat and optimistic, and always with a smile on his face. Riley’s family describes him as always putting others ahead of himself, and nothing exemplifies that more than his final, heroic actions in defense of his fellow students. We will not forget Riley.”
He added: “Our faculty have approved Degrees in Memoriam for both Riley and Reed (Ellis Parlier), and I have reached out to each of their families. We will do everything we can to lift them up over the difficult days, weeks, and months ahead.”
Howell’s mother is a teacher near his hometown and the T.C. Roberson community has been mourning the loss on Facebook. “Just got word that Riley Howell and graduate of TC. Was killed in the UNC shooting yesterday. His mother is still teaching at Valley Springs. Let’s keep this family in our prayers,” a fellow graduate of the high school wrote on Facebook.
Howell was on the cross country and soccer teams at T.C. Roberson, according to the school’s website. He graduated from the high school in 2016. His family ran a farm, CNN reported. His aunt told the network, “He was super fit, always the one who was showing all the kids things, he drove the boat at the lake house.”
Howell’s family also said this about him:
You knew when he walked in the room, as that wide smile arrived first on his tall and sturdy frame. At 21 years old, Riley Howell was a big kid, who loved life, his family, and his soul mate Lauren. He was everyone’s protector, always standing up for what he believed in and lending a strong back to those in need.
On the high school soccer field he was the goalkeeper, fearless, leading from the back, and the last line of defense. As a runner he was always racing against himself while at the same time pushing his teammates to achieve their personal bests.
Riley made it easy to be his friend. His laid back demeanor belied his innate desire to make a meaningful impact on your life. He made you feel special, he asked all the right questions, and always seemed available when you needed him most.
Riley considered a career in the military or firefighting before enrolling in college. He relished the big challenges, whether it be jumping from the highest cliff into the water below or power lifting competitions at the gym. Once committed to something- he never gave up, never gave in, and gave everything he had- always.
In life you count yourself blessed to have a son or friend like Riley Howell. While his path was not always certain, it was not without purpose. His faith was strong and he knew what he had to do when people needed him most. He was always the guy you could count on and he delivered.
His parents, Thomas and Natalie, sisters and brother, Iris, Juliet and Teddy, and girlfriend, Lauren- thank everyone for being with them during this very difficult time. Riley has been their hero for a long time and now they share him with so many others.
Chancellor Philip DuBois said in a news conference on Wednesday, “This is still very raw for us.”
Howell & His Girlfriend Had Been Dating for 5 Years & Friends Called Them the ‘Perfect’ & ‘Cutest’ Couple of All-Time
Howell and his girlfriend met in high school and had been dating for five years. They planned to marry, friends told WLOS-TV. Friends described them as the “perfect” and “cutest couple of all time.”
Lauren Westmoreland wrote in 2018 about the pain of being away from her love while he studied at UNC Charlotte and she went to college at North Carolina State.
“Seeing prom pictures come in over these past few weeks is so sentimental for several different reasons, just thinking about how easy everything was in high school, how very different everything was too, and how special all those times felt. Today is no marked special occasion or anything, but just a day where I’ve been reminiscing a lot about times that have passed, now that another year in college is about to be behind us,” she wrote.
“Not to be sappy or anything, but my life would be almost unrecognizable at this point if you hadn’t been in it these past four years. While sometimes I do have a feeling of nostalgia for times like these, I have learned so much from you and about you since the first day we met, and we still have so much to learn from each other. I can’t wait to see what the next years will hold. You are my favorite person, the family that I’ve gotten since I’ve known you is as dear to my heart as my own lovely family, and I love you with all that my little heart has to give. I can’t wait to see you in only a little over a week and give you a kiss as sweet as this one.”
Howell’s Cross Country Coach Says He Always ‘Had a Smile on His Face’
Riley Howell’s cross country coach at T.C. Roberson High School, Andrew Devine, told the Asheville Citizen-Times he always had “a smile on his face and was upbeat and optimistic.”
His soccer coach, Josh Martin, told the newspaper he spent Wednesday morning “crying his eyes out.” The school observed a moment of silence for Howell and flags were lowered to half-staff in his honor.
“You can’t really put into words what a good human being he was,” Martin told the Citizen-Times. “There aren’t words to describe how we’re all feeling. This is tragic.”
Howell’s friend, Lucas Tate, told the Citizen-Times, that he “was one of the most loving and caring people I have ever met. He had an amazing soul. He always brought light into the room and he just cared about people more than himself. He was just that kind of person.”
Riley Was Described as a ‘Selfless Person’ & The Chancellor Called the Shooting ‘the Saddest Day in UNC Charlotte’s History’
The friend of Riley’s described his personality to the Daily Beast.
“Riley had the most amazing personality and always knew how to make someone feel important,” said Lucas Tate, 20, to the site. He’s known Howell since childhood.
“He always brought an amazing light into the room and he just cared about people more than himself. He was just that kind of person. He was the most selfless person I know,” he said.
The chancellor released a statement that declared “this is the saddest day in UNC Charlotte’s history. Earlier this evening, the unthinkable happened on our campus.”
The chancellor wrote that “an individual opened fire in a UNC Charlotte classroom, cutting short the lives of two members of our community and seriously injuring four others.”
Families of the deceased were being notified and university staff were with those who are injured, the chancellor wrote.
“The entire UNC Charlotte community shares the shock and grief of this senseless, devastating act. This was an attack on all of Niner Nation,” he wrote.
He added, “The days ahead will be some of the most challenging we have ever encountered. All I can say for certain is that we will get through them together.”
Police wrote that detectives were conducting a homicide investigation at the campus after the call for help came in at 5:42 p.m. and police responded “to an assault with a deadly weapon call for service involving an active shooter on South Library Lane in the Kennedy Building.”
Officers “located multiple victims with gunshot wounds.” Three victims were taken to Atrium Health Carolina’s Medical Center. One victim was transported by a UNCC police sergeant to Atrium Health University City and then by a medic to Atrium. Two additional victims were pronounced deceased on the scene by a media, the statement read.
Photos and videos also circulated of the accused shooter, Trystan Terrell. “I shouldn’t have to check up on my friends at #UNCC to see if they fell victim to a school shooter, this whole situation is so f*cked up! Sending a lot of electronic hugs over to Charlotte right now, plz stay safe,” wrote a woman on Twitter.
“My sister is a professor at UNCC and could have easily been a victim in today’s shooting. I’m praising God for her safety (thankfully she was off campus at the time), but you better believe I’m following up my thoughts and prayers with action for stronger gun control,” wrote an upset woman on Twitter.
Videos showed students running. Other videos showed students walking with their hands up down a sidewalk on the UNCC campus. The shooting was in the class of Adam Johnson, who wrote on Twitter, “I’m not sure if I want to share anything but to clarify any rumors. Yes, there was a shooting in my class today. It was during team presentations in LBST2213 which is framed as #Anthropology and #Philosophy of #Science. My students are so special to me and I am devastated.” He said he won’t share details or talk to the news media.
Some people shared the images and demanded action.
Students took to social media to share their emotions.
“2 people won’t go home tonight after studying all day. they won’t take their finals after a semester of hard work. they won’t return your texts or calls. they won’t have a future because a senseless monster took that from them. Something has to change. #UNCC,” wrote one student on Twitter.
Students wrote on Twitter that the gunman opened fire during a presentation.
Tristan Field wrote on Twitter, “The shooter at UNCC didn’t say anything. He just started shooting during our final presentations and we all ran out. I’m praying for everyone that got hit and UNC Charlotte as a whole. #CharlotteStrong.”
He added, “Why would anyone do this. We were just doing presentations and someone started shooting up the room. We didn’t do anything but our work. Stay safe UNCC.”