People gather across from the campus of UNC Charlotte after a shooting incident at the school Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

Slain North Carolina student hailed as hero for confronting campus gunman

The student did what police train people to do in active shooter situations

A North Carolina college student tackled a gunman who opened fire in his classroom, saving others’ lives but losing his own in the process, police said Wednesday.

Riley Howell, 21, was among the students gathered for end-of-year presentations in an anthropology class at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte when a gunman with a pistol began shooting students. Howell and another student were killed; four others were wounded.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Howell “took the assailant off his feet,” but was fatally wounded. He said Howell did what police train people to do in active shooter situations.

“You’re either going to run, you’re going to hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant. Having no place to run and hide, he did the last. But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Putney said. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.”

The father of Howell’s longtime girlfriend said news that he tackled the shooter wasn’t surprising. Kevin Westmoreland, whose daughter Lauren dated Howell for nearly six years, said Howell was athletic and compassionate — and would have been a good firefighter or paramedic.

“If Lauren was with Riley, he would step in front of a train for her if he had to,” Westmoreland said. “I didn’t realize it might come to that for somebody else.”

READ MORE: 2 dead, motive unclear in North Carolina campus shooting

In a statement, Howell’s family remembered him as a big-hearted person who was friends with everyone.

“He always was able to put others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone who needed it,” the statement read.

The motive wasn’t immediately clear. Suspect Trystan Andrew Terrell had been enrolled at the school but withdrew during the current semester, UNC-Charlotte spokeswoman Buffy Stephens said. Campus Police Chief Jeff Baker said Terrell had not appeared on their radar as a potential threat.

“I just went into a classroom and shot the guys,” Terrell told reporters Tuesday as officers led him in handcuffs into a law enforcement building.

Terrell, 22, was charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder and other charges.

Putney said the suspect didn’t appear to target any particular person but did deliberately pick the building where it happened. He wouldn’t elaborate on why. Authorities said the anthropology class was fairly large, without being specific about how many students were present. Putney said the handgun used in the shooting was purchased legally.

Terrell is under observation in police custody, and his father and attorney haven’t been allowed to speak to him, his grandfather Paul Rold said Wednesday.

“His dad hasn’t a clue about what happened, or why it happened,” said Rold, of Arlington, Texas.

Terrell was on the autism spectrum but was “clever as can be” and bright enough to learn foreign languages, Rold said. He said his grandson wasn’t very social.

Rold said the Charlotte campus shooting is the latest in a long line of mass shootings that won’t end until laws reduce the volume of guns readily available.

“It’s unfortunate that in our society it can be so easily perpetrated. He has no background in guns or gun collecting, gun interest,” he said. “And how, in a short period of time, he was able to secure these weapons —legally, illegally, however— is the problem until Congress does something. If Sandy Hook, if Las Vegas, if Florida and these multiple incidents like yesterday can’t get them to move, if they’re more interested in reelection than the value of human life, this thing will continue.”

READ MORE: Shots fired at a North Carolina university campus

A campus vigil for the victims was planned for Wednesday evening. In a news release, UNC-Charlotte said all the victims were students, five from North Carolina and one international. Howell, of Waynesville, and Ellis R. Parlier, 19 of Midland, were killed in the attack. Those injured were Sean Dehart, 20, and Drew Pescaro, 19, both of Apex; Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte; and Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saihat, Saudia Arabia.

After the shooting, students and faculty scrambled to find safe spaces on the campus of nearly 30,000 students, enduring a lengthy lockdown.

In a class a few rooms away from where the shooting happened, Krysta Dean was about to present a senior research project when she heard someone scream “shooter.” The anthropology major huddled behind a table with her classmates.

“When I was sitting there on the floor, thinking that I might get a bullet in my head, my biggest fear was somebody’s reality. And there are parents that are never going to be able to hug their children again,” she said.

____

Tom Foreman Jr. And Sarah Blake Morgan, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penticton Search and Rescue respond to six calls in less than a week

Two hikers rescued in early morning search near Greyback Lake latest in series of searches

In photos: Modified, yet traditional graduation gives Penticton graduates a sense of normalcy

Students around Penticton take part in pre-recorded graduation ceremonies

Summerland council to continue online meetings

Virtual meetings remain to comply with COVID-19 restrictions

‘It’s about equality’ says Penticton man rallying for Black Lives Matter

“Canada is not exempt from racism and oppression,” said Geoff Stathers, standing with his #BLM sign

Summerland not considering allowing alcohol in public spaces

Penticton and North Vancouver have both passed bylaws to relax alcohol consumption rules

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

Police seek help identifying person of interest in Salmon Arm arson investigation

A fire in a garage was extinguished but it is being treated as an arson.

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary rescinds all Grand Forks-area evacuation orders

Evacuation alerts for 1,136 Boundary properties remain in effect as officials monitor forecasts

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Filming to resume safely later in June: Okanagan Film Commission

Film commissioner Jon Summerland said they want to start filming again later in June

Kelowna RCMP investigate woman’s sudden death

Criminality is not suspected at this time, according to RCMP

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

WATCH: Burned out car be gone thanks to Vernon dealership, ski resort

Bannister GM Vernon and SilverStar Mountain Resort team up in road cleanup

Summerland golfers play team game

Two lowest net scores per hole used to determine results

Most Read