CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ABC News) – Riley Howell, one of the two students slain in a shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was a “hero” whose “sacrifice saved lives,” according to police.
When gunfire rang out in a classroom inside the Kennedy building, 21-year-old Howell did exactly what people are trained to do — run, hide or fight, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney.
“Having no place to run and hide, he did the last,” Putney said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Howell “took the assailant off his feet,” allowing officers to step in and apprehend him, according to Putney.
Without him, “the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Putney said.
“His sacrifice saved lives,” Putney said.
Howell and fellow student Ellis Parlier, 19, were killed in the Tuesday shooting and four more were hurt.
“Riley was truly a one of a kind guy,” his family said in a statement. “He loved all things outdoors, adventure, and especially family. He loved to work outside and when he worked, he did it with his hands and his heart. He always was able to put others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone who needed it. He was friends with anyone and everyone–a big, muscular guy with a huge heart.”
“He was the kind of person who you knew would take care of you the moment you met him, and he always did,” his family said. He radiated love and always will. “
Howell was from Waynesville, North Carolina. He graduated in 2016 from T.C. Roberson High School, where he took AP classes and was a member of the soccer and cross country teams, the school said.
“Riley was an incredible young man,” Brian Feid, a former high school social studies teacher, said in a statement. “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,” Feid said. “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.”
The suspected shooter, 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell, is in custody. School Chancellor Philip Dubois said Terrell is a former student.
Police are still investigative a motive, said Putney, who himself attended UNC Charlotte.
Putney said the gunman’s choice of building appeared intentional.
“There was some familiarity with that building in particular,” Putney said.
Dubois called it “the worst day in the history of UNC Charlotte.”