WAYNESVILLE, N.C. — Family, hundreds of friends and a military honor guard on Sunday remembered a North Carolina college student credited with saving classmates by rushing a gunman firing inside their lecture hall.
Riley Howell, 21, was fatally shot Tuesday while tackling the gunman accused of killing Howell and one other person and wounding four more at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Howell has been called a hero.
“A man I never knew is now a man I’ll never forget,” the Rev. Robert Blackburn remembered one young man’s sign reading as Howell’s body was returned earlier this week to his hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His memorial service was held Sunday at a 1,900-seat auditorium on the grounds of a Methodist retreat on Lake Junaluska.
Blackburn opened the service by asking participants to remember the horror of the shooting, pray for the other victims, and offer compassion for the family of the man arrested in the case, Trystan Andrew Terrell.
Terrell, a 22-year-old former UNC-Charlotte student, has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and other offenses in connection with the attack.
A military honor guard outside the auditorium stood at attention as a trumpeter played through open doors. Howell had been enrolled in a second semester of college ROTC courses at UNC-Charlotte, though he wasn’t among those pursuing a career as a military officer, said Lt. Col. Chunka Smith, who runs the school’s Army ROTC program.
Howell’s mother received a folded American flag from a military honor guard, which came on stage during the memorial.
Howell was a big-hearted, affectionate person with an adventurous streak who loved Star Wars and superhero tales, his siblings recounted. Riley “unapologetically lived as who he was” and set an example to be “bigger than the small things this world wants us to be hung up on,” said his sister Iris.
“My superhero doesn’t wear a cape, he wears Tevas,” said his brother Teddy.
Before the bluegrass band Balsam Range played “I’ll Fly Away,” the father of Howell’s high school sweetheart of five years wondered whether the young man had died saving college classmates who may have lives of high purpose.
“I choose to believe that Riley knew that some things were bigger than he was, and he was right where he was supposed to be. Maybe it was to show all of us in the world that selflessness is not gone. We just don’t see it enough,” said Kevin Westmoreland.