Heroes and a question emerge from UNC Charlotte shooting: Why did attacker open fire?

Heroes emerged from the bursts of gunfire that killed two UNC Charlotte students and injured four others in their classroom late Tuesday afternoon, stunning a sprawling campus of nearly 30,000 students on the last day of spring classes.

A former student with no criminal record, 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell, was charged. Police say the shooter fired a handgun that was legally bought and inside a building that he knew. But he apparently didn’t specifically target any of his one-time classmates in a course on science and technology.

“It’s going to take a while to figure out all that happened and what’s more, why,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters. He added: “The randomness is what’s most concerning.”

Terrell himself offered only a cryptic clue as he was being led, handcuffed, into CMPD headquarters. “I just went into his classroom and shot the guy,” he appears to say in response to a reporter’s question that was captured on video by WBTV, The Charlotte Observer’s news partner.

Shots were reported in the Kennedy building, home to UNCC’s Center for Teaching and Learning, at about 5:40 p.m. Tuesday. Campus police clicked a button that lets them lock down nearly all campus buildings as officers raced to the classroom and quickly subdued Terrell.

By then two students, Ellis Parlier, 19, of Midland, and Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville, had been fatally shot. Four more were injured: Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saihat, Saudia Arabia; Sean Dehart, 20, of Apex; Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte; and Drew Pescaro, 19, of Apex. Dehart has been released from the hospital and the other wounded students are expected to recover, Chancellor Phil Dubois said Wednesday.

But the toll could have been much worse, Putney said. Howell tackled the shooter and saved other lives, the chief said.

The athletically-built young man “took the assailant off his feet” before campus police officers arrived, Putney told reporters. Howell was apparently the second student to be fatally shot, he said.

Howell “did exactly what we train people to do — you’re going to run, you’re going to hide and shield, or you’re going to face the assailant,” Putney said. “He did the latter (and) his sacrifice saved lives.”

UNCC police credited Sgt. Richard Gundacker and Lt. Sarah Smyre with quickly subduing Terrell.

“I never thought I’d have to do this,” Gundacker said. “I’ve been preparing for this for over 20 years, in my mind.”

Community moving forward

UNCC largely halted operations Wednesday, suspending exams through Sunday and telling non-essential staff to stay home. Rattled students described hours of dread in locked-down buildings.

“He killed two people. He nearly fatally injured four people,” said Gabriel Maldonado, a freshman in computer engineering. “But he left hundreds with God knows what mentally.”

Student Chris Williams was studying in the library with a friend when someone ran into the room, screaming “shooter.” He ran with about 50 other people to a room at the back of the building, where they barricaded the door and waited. Williams texted his friends and family while he waited for an hour before being escorted out.

“It’s very surreal,” he said. “You never think its going to happen to you.”

Gov. Roy Cooper was scheduled to attend a student-organized vigil at UNCC’s Halton Arena Wednesday night.

Dubois, who had called Tuesday a day that “shakes us to our very core,” said students would be given flexibility to finish the term but that commencement would go forward as planned on May 10 and 11.

“If they intended to walk, they’ll walk,” he said.

Mayor Vi Lyles told reporters that, at conferences, she’d talked to other mayors of cities where mass shootings had taken place. “And here I am today,” she said.

“We, all of us, everyone in this community, stands in shock, and grief,” Lyles said. “We know tragedies like this can divide a community or can bring us together. It is our choice of how we move forward.”

Staff writers Teo Armus, Danielle Chemtob, Theoden Janes, Gavin Off and Katherine Peralta contributed.

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