BUNCOMBE COUNTY, NC (WSPA) – A victim hailed a hero in Tuesday’s shooting at UNC Charlotte is being remembered in his western North Carolina hometown.
Riley Howell was one of two people killed when a shooter opened fire on the campus. Four others were wounded in the shooting.
Police say Howell was fatally shot when he stepped in and took the gunman off his feet.
Howell was 21.
“He’s just like the most selfless person I know,” Lucas Tate said.
Howell was one of Tate’s best friends. The two met at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville.
“We were on the cross country team together. We also ran track together. Through that we kind of formed our friendship,” Tate said. “And we kinda moved into camping and hiking – a lot of outdoorsy stuff, you know. He loved being outside.”
The friendship that lasted into their college years was tragically cut short on Tuesday.
Authorities say Howell was among the students in class at UNC Charlotte when a gunman started shooting, and Howell stepped in.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Howell “took the assailant off his feet,” but was fatally wounded doing so.
“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,” Chief Putney said. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.”
Tate said Howell’s selfless act is not surprising.
“That’s just the person he is,” Tate said. “He always wants the best for others, you know.”
Ellis Parlier was also killed in the shooting and four students were hurt.
Buncombe County School officials said Howell graduated T.C. Roberson High School in 2016.
Counselors and a crisis team were at the high school, as well as Valley Springs Middle where Howell’s mom is an employee.
“We always talked about him either going into the military or being a firefighter and those are just two perfect example of what kind of person he was,” Tate said. “I just want people to remember him, you know, because he did a really big thing that not a lot of people would’ve done.”
Howell’s former teachers and coaches shared these statements in his memory:
“Riley was a student at TCR, and he graduated during my last year as principal in 2016. He was both athletic and studious, taking many honors and AP classes. I always remembered him as a kind student who always had a smile on his face. The staff at T.C. and all of our schools work to build strong relationships with our students. We are keenly aware of the extra supports we need to have in place during difficult times like this. Our Student Services department has a crisis team mobilized to assist at T.C for this reason.” — Amy Rhoney, former T.C. Roberson Principal and current Director of Special Services.
“The violent and tragic passing of Riley Howell has touched the lives of everyone in our community. How could it not? I remember precisely where Riley sat in my classroom. I remember our conversations. I remember Riley’s enthusiasm for life, infectious smile, and bright-eyed amiability. He was as easy to love as he so easily loved others. My heart breaks for his friends and family, and especially, his siblings. I can think of only one way to describe his passing– heart-wrenching.” — Ms. Tristen Plemmons, TCR English teacher
“It took a long, long time to get him here [to the cross country team] joining late in his final high school year, but Riley was an invaluable addition to the team. As I reflect on his character I remember that he was bright, independent, kind, and optimistic; he had a special affinity for the outdoors; his hallmarks were a big grin and a carefree spirit; and, his teammates loved and respected him. It was a privilege to be his coach.”–Andrew Devine, TCR Cross Country Coach
“The Roberson Community has been touched by tragedy today. Riley Howell lost his life saving others. Riley played soccer, ran cross country, but, more importantly, was a part of our greater Roberson family. He will be missed and remembered as an individual, who, in the moment of greatest peril, sacrificed for the lives of others. He lived his life in service of others and his light was extinguished way too soon. We join countless communities who have experienced the same violence in mourning one of our sons, one of our brothers, one of our students, one of our players, one of our own.”– Josh Martin, TCR Soccer Coach
“Riley was an incredible young man (as so often seems to be the case when these senseless tragedies occur). If one tried to describe him, he was a lover of just about everything outdoors. Inside the building, he was an unfailingly kind person and for those of us lucky enough to call him a friend, he was fiercely loyal. He rarely had a frown upon his face, instead, he smiled and brought joy to those around him at all times. He was honest, especially with himself. When he made mistakes, he did not make excuses; he would just smile, shrug his shoulders, admit his mistake, and then do better. His giving spirit will be truly missed, and we were lucky to have him in our lives, however short a time that that might have been.”– Brian Feid, TCR Social Studies Teacher