U.S. NEWS
05/02/2019 06:21 EDT | Updated 05/02/2019 11:40 EDT

'Hero' UNC Charlotte Student Riley Howell Died Tackling Gunman

Police said the 21-year-old's sacrifice "saved lives" and helped authorities apprehend the suspect.

Riley Howell, 21, was killed in the shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus on Tuesday. The college junior’s final act was one of selfless heroism, according to police.

Howell was shot dead tackling the gunman, said Kerr Putney, the chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, at a Wednesday press conference.

“He’s an athletically built young man and he took the fight to the assailant,” Putney said, according to CNN. “Unfortunately, he had to give his life to do so but he saved lives.” 

Howell “took the suspect off his feet,” ultimately helping authorities capture him, Putney said.

Trystan Terrell, a 22-year-old former UNCC student, was arrested shortly after the shooting on Tuesday. Terrell was accused of opening fire in a UNCC classroom, killing Howell and another student, 19-year-old Ellis Parlier. Four others were injured, three of them critically.

Howell’s devastated parents told NBC News that they weren’t surprised to hear of their son’s efforts to disable the shooter.

“We are just beyond proud of what he was able to do,” Howell’s mother Natalie said. “While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter.” 

Howell loved the outdoors, “Star Wars,” cooking and had a “huge heart,” his family said in a statement. “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 also loved his girlfriend of five years, Lauren Westmoreland, his family said, referring to her as his “soul mate.”

“I’m just, I’m gonna miss that kid,” Kevin Westmoreland, Lauren’s father, told WLOS. “I wish more people could have met him. He was a good boy, good man, good person. ... To go down and pick [my daughter] up with the idea we will never see him again is terrible for all of us.”

Howell’s aunt described her nephew as “everybody’s protector.”

“You felt safe when you were with Riley,” Morgan Howell Moylan told CNN. She added that her nephew harbored dreams of joining the military but had postponed those plans to attend college.

This article has been updated to include additional comments from Howell’s family.