CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Charlotte community and UNC Charlotte 49ers are marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly shooting on campus with a Day of Remembrance.
The focus is on those lost, and the love that is helping the university community heal.
Two families suffered the ultimate loss on March 30, 2019. Reed Parlier and Riley Howell died inside the classroom when a gunman opened fire, several others were hurt.
The Parlier family has wanted to do their coping, and healing in private. We have always respected their wishes. We know they loved their son dearly. A good man who had a world of promise ahead in his life. He is missed by everyone who knew and loved him. That is certain.
Riley Howell’s mom and dad, his little sisters and baby brother Teddy miss him every single day. As the anniversary of the shooting approached, we wanted talked to the family about how they felt nearing the anniversary of Riley’s death.
In some ways the North Carolina “Stay At Home” order was a blessing. It brought all the kids back home to Waynesville. But it also interrupted what where the distractions of their grief.
“I think we’re doing pretty well. Up until all this virus issue started, school was going okay and everything else was going along,” Thomas, Riley’s father, said.
I asked if, in the year since losing Riley, they have grown closer as a family. Thomas Howell made a joke most parents can relate to during these Stay at Home orders.
The Howell’s oldest daughter Iris quickly chimed in.
“So I think going through something like that definitely makes you appreciate the people around you a hundred times more than you did before. So, I would say yes!,” she said.
In the first days, even month after Riley tackled the gunman and stopped the shooting, the siblings clung to each other, as the youngest child, Teddy puts it, “Like little puppy dogs.” They needed each other more than ever.
They continue to need each other. Being stuck at home, for Juliet, has been a comfort.
“Well, I think even if we are with each other 24, seven right now, I mean it’s company, you know. And that is comforting,” Juliet said.
The Howell’s life in the last year had tough times. But the kids, and Thomas, say living the life Riley would be living, is one way of coping with his loss.
Teddy finds comfort at the lake on the family’s Waynesville farm.
“The lake was always fun with him. Whenever he would see a cool bird, he’d start yelling for no reason really or anything like that,” Teddy said.
While the UNC Charlotte community planned a Day of Remembrance, the events had to be moved online because of the pandemic.
I asked the family what they would be doing to remember Riley on the anniversary. They said they would be close to him, doing something he loved. Enjoying the beautiful outdoors.
“We used to go up there for his birthday and things like that. So I think just making an effort to get outside on the 30th, um, and just try to, you know, involve ourselves in things that aren't stressful and just kind of do what Riley liked on that day,” Iris told us.
Despite their terrible loss, the family says over the last year, they have seen how Riley’s bravery inspired others.
“I think it's really amazing how even that tragic event brought everyone together so much and with so much love, I just think it's, they can show how people can actually have good inside,” Juliet said of what she’s felt over the last year.
The Howell’s “new normal” is a life without Riley. It does not get easier with time. They miss him every single day.
The youngest, Teddy, had these words for others who, like his family, know the sudden grief all too well.
“I just want for anybody who’s lost a loved one, I just want to just tell them to just not let their loved one’s beliefs and their experience die at all. Just keep remembering and what they were about. I mean this doesn’t even have to be just about the Charlotte shooting, cause if you’ve got any loved one you’ve lost, just remember them,” Teddy said.
Thomas Howell says the family has received an outpouring of support from the Charlotte community.
“Well, I mean, there’s lots of love and gratitude to people everywhere are home community, but especially Charlotte. I think it started with getting letters from return addresses from Charlotte, from people we didn’t know, just a unbelievable amount," Thomas Howell said.