Charlotte, NC – A University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte student sacrificed himself to help end a mass shooting on the university campus on Tuesday, police said.
Riley Howell, 21, was listening to final presentations in his anthropology class when one of his fellow classmates, 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell, abruptly opened fire inside the classroom.
"All of a sudden, without warning, no one yelled, no nothing. This gun started ringing out," said Tristan Field, who was also in the classroom when the attack occurred, according to CBS News.
Approximately 50 students all rushed to the two doorways leading out of the room, as Terrell fired at them with a pistol, CNN reported.
"It was absolute panic,” Field told CBS News. “A chair fell in front of the door, so people were tripping over that, like, trying to climb over it."
"Some people fell down. It was like water through a funnel, but it wasn't fast enough,” he said.
In the midst of the chaos, Howell took action, and charged towards the rampaging gunman, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said during a press conference on Wednesday, according to FOX News.
"You're either gonna run, gonna hide and shield, or you're gonna take the fight to the assailant," Chief Putney said. "Having no place to run and hide, he did the last."
The chief said that describing the hit Howell delivered to Terrell as a tackle would be an “understatement,” and that the force he used actually “took the assailant off his feet,” the Associated Press reported.
Without Howell's assistance, Terrell might not have been disarmed, Chief Putney said.
“He gave his life in the process, but his sacrifice saved lives,” he continued. “Absolutely, Mr. Howell saved lives.”
Howell, an environmental studies major, was the “first and foremost hero” during the attack, police said, according to NBC News.
“Everyone ran, and Riley chased,” his father, Thomas Howell, said during an interview on the “Today” show.
"We are just beyond proud of what he was able to do," added his mother, Natalie Henry-Howell. "While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter."
Howell’s 19-year-old sister, Iris, said that her brother’s heroic effort epitomized his protective nature.
“It didn’t matter what happened to him as long as others got out,” Iris told NBC News.
Their 14-year-old brother, Teddy, said that Howell has “always been my hero.”
"There was no question, there was no doubt that he would have done what he did," Teddy said. "He put others before himself...He always has."
Howell also leaves behind his girlfriend of five years, Lauren Westmoreland.
"Just tell people you love them," she said. "That was the last thing that I got to say to him was that I loved him."
Investigators believe Howell was the final victim in the shooting, during which 19-year-old Ellis Parlier was also murdered, FOX News reported.
Four other students, 19-year-old Drew Pescaro, 20-year-old Sean Dehart, 20-year-old Rami Alramadhan, and 23-year-old Emily Houpt, were wounded in the attack.
The incident began near the UNC Charlotte Kennedy Building at approximately 5:45 p.m., as many of the university’s 30,000 students were preparing for their final exams or gathering for an on-campus Waka Flocka Flame concert scheduled for that night, CNN reported.
Field estimated that Terrell had been sitting among the other students in class for approximately 10 minutes prior to the attack, according to CBS News.
Chris Neal was in a nearby building when the shooting occurred, and witnessed the mass exodus from the classroom.
“They came flying out of the building, were jumping the brick wall, running all different ways," Neal said.
Bullets riddled the doors to the campus library, and students barricaded themselves inside to keep Terrell out, CNN reported.
Law enforcement officers were already on campus in preparation for the concert, and immediately rushed towards the gunfire.
They were able to identify which room the shooter was firing from, then disarmed him after Howell knocked his feet out from under him.
Terrell smiled up at the sky and at nearby reporters as he was being led away in handcuffs, but said nothing to police during his arrest, CNN reported.
“I just went into a classroom and shot the guys,” the gunman boasted to reporters as he was being led into a law enforcement building on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Chief Baker said Terrell was not someone who “was on our radar” prior to the attack, CNN reported.
Terrell first enrolled at the university in the fall of 2018, but withdrew from all of his classes except anthropology the next semester, KKTV reported.
It was the same class he attacked on Tuesday.
Terrell has been charged with four counts of attempted murder, two counts of murder, possession of a firearm on educational property, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and discharging a firearm on educational property, CBS News reported.
"I can't tell you the sadness of the entire community to know that a situation like this has occurred on our campus," UNC Charlotte Police Chief Jeff Baker said. "We are all pretty much devastated."
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois called the shooting the “saddest day in UNC Charlotte’s history.”
“I am proud of and grateful for the efforts of UNC Charlotte Police and Public Safety, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and other emergency officials,” Dubois said, according to WTVD. “The suspected shooter is in custody and lives were saved thanks to their rapid response.”