Slain North Carolina College Student Confronted Gunman, Saved Lives: Police Chief

May 1, 2019 Updated: May 1, 2019

A 21-year-old student killed in a shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte saved some of his classmates’ lives by charging the gunman and attempting to disarm him, the city’s top police official said on Wednesday.

Environmental studies student Riley Howell of Waynesville, North Carolina, one of two students killed in the shooting on April 30, played a key role in ending the attack by a former student, said Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

“But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Putney told a news conference.

“He’s an athletically built young man and he took the fight to the assailant. Unfortunately he had to give his life to do so,” said Putney, a UNC Charlotte alumnus. “He took the assailant off his feet.”

Riley Howell
Riley Howell (R). (Matthew Westmoreland via AP)

The other student killed in the shooting was Ellis Parlier, 19, officials said. Four wounded students were identified as Drew Pescaro, 19; Sean DeHart, 20; Emily Houpt, 23; and Rami Alramadhan, 20.

Police in Charlotte charged former UNC Charlotte student Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, with two counts of murder and four of attempted murder but offered no explanation for a motive. They said he used a legally purchased handgun.

Terrell was familiar with the classroom building where the attack occurred but it was unclear if he knew the students targeted, Putney said.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office shows Trystan Andrew Terrell
Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office shows Trystan Andrew Terrell on April 30, 2019. (Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

“We can’t really discern the why just yet,” Putney said. “The randomness is what is most concerning.”

He added that police believe Terrell acted alone.

Terrell is due to make an initial court appearance on Thursday, jail records show.

The school’s chancellor, Phil Dubois, said all of the wounded were expected to recover, with one already released from the hospital.

Houpt is due to graduate from the school later this month, said Dubois, adding that the school’s commencement ceremonies would go on as scheduled next week.

Final exams have been postponed and the school will consider allowing professors to cancel them, Dubois said.

People gather across from the campus of University of North Carolina at Charlotte after a shooting at the school on April 30, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C. (Jason E. Miczek/Photo via AP)

Students spent a harrowing night as police searched door-to-door for other suspects, not giving the all-clear until almost dawn on Wednesday.

The shooting started in a classroom at about 5:40 p.m. on Tuesday, police said. Tristan Field, a student who witnessed the shooting, told CBS News as many as 50 students tried to escape through two doors.

“A chair fell in front of the door, so people were tripping over that, like, trying to climb over it,” he said. “Some people fell down. It was like water through a funnel but wasn’t fast enough.”

University of North Carolina
People gather across from the campus of UNC Charlotte after a shooting incident at the school in Charlotte, N.C., on April 30, 2019. (Jason E. Miczek/AP Photo)

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has more than 26,500 students.

The deadliest mass shooting on a U.S. college campus took place at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, in April 2007, when a student killed 32 people and then himself.

By Gabriella Borter and Brendan O’Brien