Riley Howell saved countless lives at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in April 2019 while sacrificing his own life. The 21-year-old Howell rushed a gunman who opened fire in a classroom at UNC-Charlotte. One other student, 19-year-old Reed Parlier, was killed and four were injured. The suspect was arrested and has pleaded guilty to murder.
Now Howell, a lifelong Star Wars fan, is being immortalized as a Jedi Master and historian by Lucasfilm, his family revealed on December 22. A character named in Howell’s honor and celebrating his legacy is featured in the book “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The Visual Dictionary,” which was released on December 20 as part of the lore surrounding the newest movie, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
The book mentions Jedi Master and historian Ri-Lee Howell. The book says Howell “collected many of the earliest accounts of explorations and codifications of the Force in the ‘Aionomica.'” The book says it is a “two-volume combination of codex, correspondence, and scrapbook. … the physical books have passages written in the hands of the original sages, carefully preserved by Howell.”
Howell’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, told the Charlotte Observer, “I like the way they actually left his last name. I think he would really be appreciative of that. Because, you know, they could have just said Ri-Lee — Jedi Ri-Lee — and we’d be guessing the whole time about whether or not that was really (him), but they put his last name in there just to really honor him … and that really made me cry when I heard about it.”
She said the entire Howell family went to the opening night of the latest Star Wars movie. “I think he would have liked the way it ended,” his mother told the newspaper.
Riley Howell Was Such a Big Star Wars Fan That His Family Held His Wake on May 4
Riley Howell was shot at least three times when he charged the gunman, allowing other students to escape from the classroom unharmed. Howell’s family said in a statement after his heroic death, ” 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.”
Howell’s family paid tribute to his Star Wars fandom by holding his wake on May 4th, the day known as Star Wars Day or May the Fourth as a reference to “may the force be with you.”
During an interview with ABC News, his 14-year-old brother, Teddy said, “He’s the only 20-year-old, 21-year-old, who would willingly fight his lightsaber with me.” His obituary mentioned “he would have lightsaber fights in the yard with his 14-year old brother Teddy,” and loved anything Star Wars related. In a New York Times profile, his family said, “He was also a deep scholar of Star Wars, amassing a legion of Jedi action figures with his brother.”
Lauren Westmoreland, his girlfriend of nearly six years, wrote on Instagram, “RILEY BABY YOURE A JEDI MASTER!!!!!!!!!! It’s official!!!!!!! So so SO much excitement to have my sweet Ri immortalized forever in the Star Wars universe that he loves so much.”
She posted about the news on TikTok and the video has nearly one million views.
Lauren’s brother, Matthew, told the Charlotte Observer the historian title is, “pretty on-the-nose. He developed an encyclopedic knowledge of everything to do with (Star Wars). He would read Wiki pages and go through the old books that … most fans never read. He was just so hardcore about it.”
Matthew Westmoreland shared the story about the tribute on the Star Wars Reddit subreddit on Sunday and wrote, “Riley was a massive Star Wars fan, and in the five-plus years I knew him he repeatedly surprised me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe. The fact that his character is a historian who put together an incredibly important text for the Jedi religion is beyond cool, and we have no words for this except: Thank you, Lucasfilm. You made our Christmas, even though we’re finishing the most difficult year in memory for us all.”
Howell’s Family Says LucasFilm Learned About His Fandom From a Letter From a Stranger & Sent Condolences to His Family, Letting Them Know They Would Pay Tribute to Him in the Future
Riley Howell’s family received a letter from Lucasfilm in May, according to Matthew Westmoreland’s Reddit post. The letter, from Lucas Seastrom, of the Lucasfilm Fan Relations Team, said, “In the wake of your recent tragedy, everyone here at Lucasfilm wishes to express our deepest condolences. Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in all of us. We hope you may rejoice in his memory and we join you in honoring his life and example.”
Seastrom wrote, “As a small tribute, our Story Group has incorporated a re-imagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy. We can’t reveal the specific details at this time, but the character’s name will appear in a forthcoming book publication this year … The Force will be with Riley, and all of you, always.”
According to the Charlotte Observer, James Wes Carrens, who did not know Howell, wrote Lucasfilm an email about Howell and his heroism and love for Star Wars, noting that CNN listed Star Wars as Howell’s first interest, ahead of even his girlfriend.
Carrens told the Observer, “I cannot think of a person more deserving to be canonized somewhere in the Star Wars universe. I know that we can’t name a major character after him, but even a very minor character in a single comic book, animated episode, or other medium would be a fitting tribute.”
Howell Was Taking ROTC Classes & Wanted a Career in the Military or as a First Responder & a Vietnam Veteran Donated a Purple Heart & Bronze Star to Howell’s Family After the Shooting‘
Riley Howell was taking an ROTC class at UNC-Charlotte and his family says he wanted to pursue a career in the military or as a first responder. He was awarded the ROTC Medal of Heroism and he was put to rest with full military honors.
After his death, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, Thomas Matteo, presented Howell’s family with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He commended Howell as a “true hero.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said after the shooting, “He took the fight to the assailant, and he unfortunately had to give his life doing so but he saved lives doing so. What he did was he took the assailant off his feet and the heroes we have here were able to apprehend from there.”
Howell Was a Graduate of T.C. Roberson High School & Was Majoring in Environmental Studies
Riley Howell was a graduate of T.C. Roberson High School and was majoring in environmental science at UNC-Charlotte. Howell was on the cross country and soccer teams at T.C. Roberson, according to the school’s website. He graduated from high school in 2016.
Howell’s family said, “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.”
Matthew Westmoreland told WFAE-TV, “The fact that he’s now a Jedi master is fitting for him, even if he wouldn’t give himself that title, even if he was too humble to say it. He was a hero to us even before this happened.”
Howell’s Family Started the Riley Howell Foundation Fund to Help Other Victims of Gun Violence
Riley Howell’s family has started the Riley Howell Foundation Fund to help other victims of gun violence. The charity’s website says, “Courage. Sacrifice. Honor. On April 30, 2019, Riley Howell was in class at UNC Charlotte. Seven minutes in, shots rang out and in a split-second decision, Riley chose to fight. He would not live to know that his actions saved others.”
His family adds, “Riley died as he lived – selflessly, bravely and in service to others. In memory of his courageous act and to honor a remarkable young man, the Riley Howell Foundation Fund supports organizations benefiting families affected by gun violence.”
Donations can be made here. According to the website, “All money raised goes to the Riley Howell Foundation Fund and will be dedicated to supporting families and victims affected by gun violence.”