Riley Howell, Ellis Parlier, Emily Houpt, Drew Pescaro, Sean DeHart, Rami Al-Ramadhan: Six students who were preparing for finals, just finishing up the last day of classes at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Their biggest concern should have been studying for exams, but now two of them have been killed and three are in critical condition.
Despite the horrifying situation created by a student who had dropped out of the school, Howell made a final stand that many are now commending him for.
“You’re either going to run or hide and shield or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant,” Police Chief Kerr Putney with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said during a news conference, according to the Citizen-Times.
“Having no place to run and hide, he did the last. But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed. Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. His sacrifice saved lives.”
Putney also said that Howell had done precisely what authorities recommend be done in active shooter situations, and by knocking the attacker off his feet he helped protect fellow classmates.
Authorities were notified of the shooting at 5:40 p.m., and thankfully a group of officers was close enough to run in and detain the shooter — but not before he’d already done irreversible damage.
Howell made the ultimate sacrifice, and the people who knew him are coming forward to publicly pay their respects and tell stories about the wonderful person Howell was.
Amy Rhoney, principal at Roberson High School when Howell attended, remembered him as a quiet young man who was smiling, kind and intelligent.
“When something like this happens, it affects the whole school, and the adults in the school,” she said, according to Citizen-Times,
“He had an amazing soul,” Lucas Tate, Howell’s good friend, said. “He always brought light into the room and he just cared about people more than himself. He was just that kind of person.”
“You can’t really put into words what a good human being he was,” Josh Martin, the Rams soccer coach, said. “There aren’t words to describe how we’re all feeling. This is tragic.”
His family, grief-stricken, has made appearances to say how proud they are of their son, and how what he did was entirely characteristic.
“He did such a heroic thing,” Morgan Howell Moylan, the hero’s aunt, told CNN. “He was everybody’s protector. You felt safe when you were with Riley.”
His mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, told “Today” that they were “just beyond proud of what he was able to do.”
“[W]hile kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter,” she added. “If he was in the room when something like that was happening, and he had turned away, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself.”
“Just tell people you love them,” his long-time girlfriend, Lauren Westmoreland, said. “That was the last thing that I got to say to him was that I loved him.”
On May 2, Howell’s body was escorted home to Waynesville, North Carolina, where he received a hero’s welcome.
UPDATE, May 23, 2019: According to a post from the Waynesville Police Department on Facebook, the family of Riley Howell was presented with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
“Chief Hollingsed, Sheriff Christopher, and Officers at the Waynesville Police Department were honored to present the family of Riley Howell with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star from Thomas Matteo. ‘Stormy’ Matteo is the President of the Purple Heart Society and is the recipient of six Purple Heart medals awarded during action with the Marines in Vietnam. During a ‘FaceTime’ call at the Police Department, Mr. Matteo spoke to the parents and siblings of Riley and commended Riley’s actions as a true hero.”
“We were truly honored to be part of this presentation. #FearLessDoMore #RileyStrong.”
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