Home Feels ‘He fought the assailant’: Student killed while confronting UNC-Charlotte shooter

‘He fought the assailant’: Student killed while confronting UNC-Charlotte shooter


A former Haywood County resident was one of two students killed in a shooting at UNC-Charlotte on Tuesday.

According to the Charlotte Police Department, Riley Howell was attempting to stop the shooter when he was killed.

“Chief (Kerr) Putney said Riley Howell was a hero who was saving others when shot,” the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department posted on Twitter Wednesday. “He fought the assailant.”

Howell’s grandmother, Nancy Blevins, said Riley was definitely his own person and that all who knew him could easily imagine him risking his own life to save others.

“He loved being able to do heavy lifting, and he was very strong. That served him well when he was able to tackle the shooter in his classroom,” she said. “His final act to save the other students, that was pure Riley. He would have done nothing less. He never would have turned and run.”

What Blevins will always remember is Riley’s smile and his willingness to help others.

“He loved life, and he loved people,” she said. “I don’t think he ever meet a stranger. It didn’t matter what kind of person. If you were Riley’s friend, you were Riley’s friend.”

Blevins said her grandson loved anything outdoors — hiking, being at the lake house, swimming and working with plants.

He was nearing a deadline to declare a major, and Blevins said she was certain it would have been something to do with the environment.

“That was very important to him,” she said.

Howell, 21, was a 2016 graduate of T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville. Prior to moving to Buncombe County, Howell’s family lived in Haywood and he attended classes here along with his siblings.

Buncombe County Schools issued a release Wednesday morning regarding the shooting victim.

“We can confirm that Riley Howell, one of the victims of Tuesday’s UNC- Charlotte shooting, is a 2016 graduate of T.C. Roberson High School. Our hearts go out to his family in this very difficult time,” the release read. “Buncombe County Schools student services department is providing counselors and a crisis team today at Roberson to provide support to teachers and students who may be struggling with this news.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Buncombe County school system released a number of remembrances from teachers and administrators who knew Howell during his time at the school.

“The violent and tragic passing of Riley Howell has touched the lives of everyone in our community. How could it not?” said Tristen Plemmons, an English teacher at T.C. Roberson. “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.”

Haywood County Schools Superintendent Bill Nolte said he remembered the family well, recalling Howell and his siblings as likable students. The family left the school system six years ago, he said.

At T.C. Roberson, Howell was an avid athlete, competing as a runner and on the soccer team during his time in Buncombe County. He transferred to UNC-Charlotte last fall.

On Tuesday evening, a shooter began firing a handgun at students in a class on the UNC-Charlotte campus. The suspect in the shooting, Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, was taken into custody alive, but not before killing Howell, classmate Ellis R. Parlier, 19, of Midland, and wounding four other members of the class.

Details regarding motive for the shooting have not been released, but some information about what transpired inside the classroom has emerged.

The following statement, penned by Riley’s uncle, Mike, released the following statement.

You knew when he walked in the room, as that wide smile arrived first on his tall and sturdy frame. At 21 years old, Riley Howell was a big kid, who loved life, his family, and his soul mate Lauren. He was everyone’s protector, always standing up for what he believed in and lending a strong back to those in need.

On the high school soccer field he was the goalkeeper, fearless, leading from the back, and the last line of defense. As a runner he was always racing against himself while at the same time pushing his teammates to achieve their personal bests.

Riley made it easy to be his friend. His laid back demeanor belied his innate desire to make a meaningful impact on your life. He made you feel special, he asked all the right questions, and always seemed available when you needed him most.

Riley considered a career in the military or firefighting before enrolling in college. He relished the big challenges, whether it be jumping from the highest cliff into the water below or power lifting competitions at the gym. Once committed to something- he never gave up, never gave in, and gave everything he had- always.

In life you count yourself blessed to have a son or friend like Riley Howell. While his path was not always certain, it was not without purpose. He knew what he had to do when people needed him most. He was always the guy you could count on and he delivered.

His parents, Thomas and Natalie, sisters and brother, Iris, Juliet, and Teddy, and girlfriend, Lauren- thank everyone for being with them during this very difficult time. Riley has been their hero for a long time and now they share him with so many others.

(c)2019 The Mountaineer (Waynesville, N.C.)
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