‘He died a hero.’ Student killed trying to stop UNCC gunman escorted home

Updated: May. 2, 2019 at 6:09 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A student killed during the shooting on the campus of UNC-Charlotte is being remembered as a hero.

21-year-old Riley Howell of Waynesville, NC, was in the classroom Tuesday afternoon when the 22-year-old shooter opened fire. Howell jumped on the shooter in an attempt to stop him, according to police.

Howell was shot and killed, but his actions delayed the shooter, giving police more time to respond and fellow students a chance to escape.

An escort to transport Howell’s body from Charlotte to his hometown of Waynesville got underway around 9 a.m. Thursday. People lined the streets to honor the fallen student and show their respects.

The procession made it’s way to Waynesville just about noon. Hundreds lined the streets with flags in one hand, tissues in another. Most were still in disbelief that Howell was killed in the violence. All said he is a hero.

“It’s just not fair,” said Taryn Shore, who has known Riley for years. “He was always smiling, always a good person.”

Lynn Roberts says she came to honor Howell and his family. It’s hard to believe this all happened, she said.

“That mother sent her child off to school and she gets him back like this,” she said. “It ain’t right in America... it’s not right.”

As the motorcade reached the funeral home, Riley’s mom went into the crowd of people to thank them for coming. She then went down a row of officers who drove in the motorcade and hugged each one.

The day before the procession, many on social media were already honoring Howell.

“He died a hero,” a Facebook post from Kim Barnes read. “He jumped on the shooter to try and stop him and was shot and killed in the process. He may not have stopped the shooter but he occupied him while others were able to get to safety and giving police time to get to the shooter.”

Howell was an Environmental Studies major who enrolled in UNCC in the fall of 2018 as a transfer student from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.

His family released a statement Wednesday, saying he was always putting others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone in need.

Riley was truly a one of a kind guy. He loved all things outdoors, adventure, and especially his family. He loved to work outside and when 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. 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.’

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Howell’s family pay expenses. You can find the page here.

Fletcher Himan, a close friend of Howell’s who went to school with him at TC Roberson High School in Asheville described him as “an amazing person.”

They often hiked together and went on camping trips.

“He loved the outdoors,” Himan said.

Howell lived in Waynesville but travelled every day with his mother, who was a teacher in Asheville, to schools in Buncombe County. Himan says Howell always smiled and made a lot of friends.

“He would always put their needs ahead of his,” said Himan.

Riley Howell was killed while trying to stop a shooter on the campus of UNC Charlotte on April...
Riley Howell was killed while trying to stop a shooter on the campus of UNC Charlotte on April 30, 2019. (2016 graduation photo courtesy family)

A moment of silence was held Wednesday at Roberson High. Not many students are left who remember Howell, who graduated 3 years ago, but teachers remembered him. Junior Victor Corona said many were very upset. Counselors were on hand at the high school for anyone who needed them and also at the middle school where Riley’s mother taught.

Fletcher says losing Riley will be felt by many in the community. “It’s gonna be hard,” he said.

According to Wells Funeral Homes, a memorial service will be held at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 5, 2019 in the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska The family will receive friends from 5:00 until 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, 2019 in the Wells Events & Reception Center.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, a UNCC alumnus, spoke about Howell during a press conference on Wednesday.

“We talk about heroism. You’re going to hear about first responders - a couple professionals who were extremely heroic in their response to this incident, which obviously saved lives,” Putney said. “What you may not hear is the first and foremost hero, as far as I’m concerned, and his name is Riley Howell.”

Putney said Howell “did exactly what we train people to do: 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.”

“His sacrifice saved lives,” Putney added.

Legislative leaders also wrote on Facebook about Howell’s heroic actions.

“Riley Howell will be remembered for his courage, for the life he lived, and for the lives he saved,” wrote Brian Turner, NC House Representative for District 116 in Buncombe County, in a post on Facebook Wednesday.

I learned this morning that T.C. Roberson High School alum Riley Howell was among the victims of the deadly shooting...

Posted by Brian Turner - NC House 116 on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

During a press conference Tuesday evening, campus police said once they got reports of the suspect armed with a pistol - with several students shot - multiple officers immediately went into the building, disarmed the suspect and took him into custody.

Howell’s efforts helped stall the shooter until that could happen.

Nineteen-year-old Ellis R. Parlier of Midland, NC, was killed along with Howell in the shooting. Four other students - 20-year-old Rami Alramadhan of Saudi Arabia, 20-year-old Sean Dehart of Apex, NC, 23-year-old Emily Houpt of Charlotte, and 19-year-old Drew Pescaro of Apex, NC - were injured.

The shooter was arrested at the scene and charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of firearm on educational property and discharging firearm on educational property.

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