UNC Charlotte unveils permanent memorial in honor of shooting victims

Reed Parlier and Riley Howell both died when a gunman began firing into a classroom on April 30, 2019.
Reed Parlier and Riley Howell were killed in a campus shooting at UNC Charlotte in April 2019.
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 7:40 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - This weekend marks four years since a calm spring evening in late April descended into chaos and loss.

On April 30, 2019, just before 6 p.m., an alert went out. An active shooter was on the campus of UNC Charlotte.

Hours later, we learned innocent students had been killed. The school and the city mourned a tragedy stemming from gun violence in our own community.

Four years later, time marches on, but the weight of who we lost that day remains heavy.

Nineteen-year old Reed Parlier and 21-year old Riley Howell both died when a lone gunman began firing into a classroom inside the Kennedy Building. Four other students were hurt.

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

Since theirs deaths, we’ve learned a great deal about the lives of both young men, and the people they left behind.

“You just try to raise your kid to do the right thing and to be caring and productive, and just to be human,” Riley’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell said following the death of her son.

In the months following the shooting, Riley was hailed a hero after it was learned that he tackled the gunman, bringing the shooting to an end. His bravery saved lives.

On Friday, his father, Thomas Howell, was within the large crowd gathered outside the Kennedy Building.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, a public gathering was held for the annual wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of Reed and Riley.

“UNC Charlotte made a promise to Riley and Reed and their families and to our survivors to remember what happened,” Chancellor Sharon Gaber said. “This beautiful memorial will help us share the story of all Niners who come after us.”

Friday’s ceremony also served as a dedication of the newly-unveiled memorial.

It’s a permanent structure designed to connect those around it to what happened on that tragic day four years ago, honoring those lost, but also remembering how the community came together.

Related: UNC Charlotte, community to pay tribute to victims of deadly campus shooting three years ago

UNC Charlotte Dean of the College of Arts and Architecture, Brook Muller, spoke about the memorial. He served as a critical leader in the memorial’s journey from an idea to a place where anyone can observe, talk, and remember.

“It’s never going to be a place of celebration, it never should be,” Muller said. “We have other spaces on campus for that to occur. I will always imagine it’ll be for more emotionally-laden conversations more for more serious purposes. But it does allow for different kinds of conversations to take place.”

He also touched on the importance of making sure the memorial was done right, with integrity, in a way that truly honors the students who had their lives cut far too short.

“There’s a lot, a tremendous amount of sensitivity around this project, of course, and we wanted it to be something that would stand in a door to remember the tragic events that took place on that day,” the professor said. “Yet at the same time, we wanted this, we want this to represent the bonds that tie the community together.”

As for the parents of Reed and Riley, Muller said he hopes the memorial signifies the importance of their lives.

“What I would like [for the families] to take away is the feeling that their sons’ lives were very, very important,” he said. “We recognize that and we’ve created something that you know, connects the sky to the ground and that creates its own space and the rest of campus, that is something that’s a very special place.”

“We’ll have folks graduating soon, who will not have been here on campus on that tragic day,” Muller said. “We hope it stands, it’s certainly going to be a wonderful, solemn, nice addition to campus. But I believe that it will be a vehicle for this event and never to be forgotten.”

Related: UNC Charlotte holds Day of Remembrance two years after deadly campus shooting