Slain North Carolina student gets Purple Heart, Bronze Star

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WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A University of North Carolina-Charlotte student who was killed when he tackled a gunman who opened fire inside a classroom has been posthumously awarded military honors.

Riley Howell was killed while trying to stop a shooter on the campus of UNC Charlotte on April 30, 2019 (MGN/Photo: Family Photo)

Twenty-one-year-old Army ROTC cadet Riley Howell was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

The Charlotte Observer reports Waynesville Police Chief William Hollingsed and Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher on Wednesday presented Howell's family with the medals. They were provided by Thomas Matteo, president of the Purple Heart Society.

Riley is credited with saving lives during the April 30 attack on the Charlotte campus that also killed 19-year-old student Ellis R. Parlier and wounded four others.

Authorities have charged 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell with murder, attempted murder and other offenses.


A student killed during the shooting on the campus of UNC Charlotte is being remembered as a hero.

Sources say 21-year-old Riley Howell, of Waynesville, NC, was in the classroom Tuesday afternoon when the 22-year-old shooter opened fire. Multiple social media accounts report Howell jumped on the shooter in an attempt to stop him.

Howell was shot and killed, but his actions delayed the shooter, giving police more time to respond and fellow students a chance to escape.

“He died a hero,” a Facebook post from Kim Barnes read. “He jumped on the shooter to try and stop him and was shot and killed in the process. He may not have stopped the shooter but he occupied him while others were able to get to safety and giving police time to get to the shooter.”

Howell’s family released a statement Wednesday, saying he was always putting others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone in need.

Riley was truly a one of a kind guy. He loved all things outdoors, adventure, and especially his family. He loved to work outside and when 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 loved Star Wars, birds, cars, snowboarding, going to the lake, Kentucky Hot Browns cooking from scratch with cast iron while listening to the Feel Good Classic Soul playlist, and his Lauren. He could also put away a pizza. He was the kind of person who you knew would take care of you the moment you met him, and he always did. He radiated love and always will. As a friend said, ‘Beautiful souls like Riley are always with us in the way they made life more beautiful.’

Police Chief Kerr Putney, a UNCC alum, spoke about Howell during a press conference on Wednesday.

“We talk about heroism. You’re going to hear about first responders - a couple professionals who were extremely heroic in their response to this incident, which obviously saved lives,” Putney said. “What you may not hear is the first and foremost hero, as far as I’m concerned, and his name is Riley Howell.”

Putney said Howell “did exactly what we train people to do: 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 and hide, he did the last.”

“His sacrifice saved lives,” Putney added.

Legislative leaders also wrote on Facebook about Howell’s heroic actions.

“Riley Howell will be remembered for his courage, for the life he lived, and for the lives he saved,” wrote Brian Turner, NC House Representative for District 116 in Buncombe County, in a post on Facebook Wednesday.

During a press conference Tuesday evening, campus police said once they got reports of the suspect armed with a pistol - with several students shot - multiple officers immediately went into the building, disarmed the suspect, and took him into custody.

Howell’s efforts helped stall the shooter until that could happen.

Nineteen-year-old Ellis R. Parlier of Midland, NC, was killed along with Howell in the shooting. Four other students - 20-year-old Rami Alramadhan of Saudi Arabia, 20-year-old Sean Dehart of Apex, NC, 23-year-old Emily Houpt of Charlotte, and 19-year-old Drew Pescaro of Apex, NC - were injured.

The shooter was arrested at the scene and charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of firearm on educational property and discharging firearm on educational property.