On Tuesday, a gunman (who will receive no name recognition here) opened fire in a classroom on students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte during the final day of classes for the semester. Immediately, those in the classroom rushed toward the exits or dove to find cover.
Riley Howell (21), however, charged the shooter and knocked him off his feet. He did not survive.
Riley, the “first and foremost hero” according to Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney, died so that other students could get to safety and succeeded in that goal, saving numerous lives while sacrificing his own.
An officer ran into the classroom shortly after Riley had knocked the gunman over and was able to disarm and arrest the shooter because he had been pushed to the floor.
Riley Howell did exactly what law enforcement officials recommend civilians do in that sort of situation.
“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 or hide, he did the last,” Putney said.
Riley’s grieving aunt praises her nephew has the hero he was. “He did such a heroic thing,” Moylan told CNN. “He was everybody’s protector. You felt safe when you were with Riley.” His mother told other members of the media that the entire family was “just beyond proud of what he was able to do.”
“While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran toward the shooter,” said Riley’s father, Henry Howell.
“That’s what he would have done, no matter what,” said Lauren Westmoreland, his girlfriend of five years.
Riley Howell grew up on a farm in his native town of Waynesville. He spent his time helping his three younger siblings and working out with first responders. He loved to cook, be outside, and spend time with his friends. His family said that “he always stood up for what he believed in and didn’t hesitate to help those in need. His faith was strong and he knew what he had to do when people needed him most,” the family said in a statement Wednesday. “He was always the guy you could count on and he delivered.”
Growing up, Riley wanted to pursue a career in the military or as a firefighter. His aunt told reporters that he had briefly put those goals on hold to attend UNC Charlotte and receive an education first. He was a first-year student and, as his aunt describes, “a big teddy bear.” “He was super fit, always the one who was showing all the kids things, he drove the boat at the lake house,” she said.
Riley Howell died alongside fellow classmate Reed Parlier (19) of Midland, North Carolina. He was and is a hero.