EXCLUSIVE: Riley Howell’s family reflects on his final split-second decision that saved classmates

Remembering Riley Howell Part One

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - On April 30, 2019, Charlotte became another city grieving from a deadly school shooting.

Prior to that day, we had seen images of kids running from school buildings with hands raised and police running towards the danger. But we had only seen that happen in other cities.

On Tuesday April 30, we saw scared young people with their hands up. Watched them trying to escape a nightmare their generation has prepared for since kindergarten. An active shooter on campus. This time it was in our city, on our campus - at UNC Charlotte.

Remembering Riley Part 2

Six people were shot just after 5:40 p.m. inside an anthropology glass in the Kennedy building.

Two students died from the shooting - Reed Parlier and Riley Howell.

Four others - Drew Pescaro, Emily Houpt, Rami Al-Ramadhan and Sean DeHart - were hit by bullets and rushed to local hospitals. Pescaro underwent several surgeries and spent weeks recovering from his physical wounds in the hospital.

But there are the emotional scars. When and how do they heal?

Remembering Riley Part 3

“It just hurts. And you miss him. You just miss him. You miss what he was, what he was going to be. You miss the other kids’ relationships with him,” Riley’s mother, Natalie, told Maureen O’Boyle.

Riley Howell’s parents invited us to their family farm outside Asheville. They agreed to talk exclusively with us to show you the real suffering families face in the aftermath of gun violence.

We walk through the lush green hills where Natalie and Thomas Howell raised their four kids. It’s now where they hold on to each other, trying every day to navigate life without their first-born.

The Howells say Riley spent most of his life quietly making life easier for others. Never trying to get attention for caring.

“You just saw flashes of it all through when he was growing up and it just kind of manifested itself in that classroom that day,” Natalie believes.

Thomas agrees, “It did!”

In the time we’ve come to know Riley Howell, he’s been called many things, a hero, a kind and loving soul. But only three people will always be able to call him their big brother.

Iris is the second oldest after Riley.

Remembering Riley Howell Part 4

“Like Mom, I’m not going to sugar coat it. It’s hard. It’s going to be hard. Every day,” Iris said.

Riley’s parents have thought a lot about Riley’s split-second decision inside the classroom - when he chose to tackle the gunman - in the end, sacrificing his own life to stop the shooting.

Thomas knows his son’s character.

“In his mind and in his heart, to walk out of that room or to run out of that room was not a choice,” Thomas said.

“In my mind he probably weighted very quickly about what I could do right now to make a difference,” Natalie agreed.

Lauren shares her final call with Riley, moments before the shooting.

“I don't know if that's some kind of cosmic thing that happened because of what was going to happen, but you know I think about that a lot,” she says of the words that were spoken.

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