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School shooting suspect, devastated by mother’s death, moved from Texas to NC

Trystan Terrell, the suspect in the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus shootings that killed two students and injured four others Tuesday, spent his high school years in what appears to be a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood in north Mansfield.

He lived in a one-story, brown brick home in the 600 block of Ember Lane, not far from a retail area at Matlock Road and East Debbie Lane.

Neighbors said Trystan Terrell, 22, and his father, Craig Terrell, moved to North Carolina a couple of years ago because Trystan was devastated by the death of his mother and wanted a change of scenery.

Trystan Terrell’s mother, Robyn Ann Terrell, died Dec. 18, 2011, after a battle with breast cancer, according to Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives. In her obituary, the family asked that donations in her memory be made to Operation Kindness, the Families for Effective Autism Treatment or the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center. Her service was held at Creekwood Church.

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Trystan Terrell (center left) attended Mansfield High School, according to his 2014 junior year yearbook. Gordon Dickson/Star-Telegram

Robyn Terrell had lived in Mansfield since 1999 and was a paraprofessional with the Mansfield school district. Trystan attended Mansfield High School, according to his 2014 junior year yearbook.

The suspect’s grandfather, Paul Rold of Arlington, Texas, told the Associated Press that Trystan Terrell was on the autism spectrum but was “clever as can be” and bright enough to learn foreign languages. Trystan taught himself French and Portuguese with the help of a language learning program his grandfather bought him and was attending UNC Charlotte. He said his grandson wasn’t very social.

But Trystan never showed any interest in guns or other weapons, and the news he may have been involved in a mass shooting was stunning, said Rold, who had not heard about the Charlotte attack before being contacted by an Associated Press reporter.

“You’re describing someone foreign to me,” Rold said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “This is not in his DNA.”

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Gordon Dickson Star-Telegram

Terrell is under observation in police custody, and his father and attorney haven’t been allowed to speak to him, Rold told the AP.

“His dad hasn’t a clue about what happened, or why it happened,” Rold said.

Rold was not at his home Wednesday morning when a Star-Telegram reporter stopped by the house in south Arlington, about three miles from where Trystan lived before moving to North Carolina.

Rold remarried about 20 years ago, and his wife is Cindy Rold, who is not related by blood to Trystan Terrell but is his step-grandmother. Cindy Rold answered the door Wednesday morning. She said she doesn’t know Trystan well.

“I have only seen him maybe three times in the past 20 years,” she said outside her house.

She said her husband had been inundated with interview requests Wednesday morning, but Craig Terrell had called from North Carolina and instructed the family not to speak to anyone about the shooting, or Trystan Terrell’s life or his family.

Trystan Terrell appeared to acknowledge his guilt as he was led into police headquarters, the Charlotte Observer reported.

“I just went into his classroom and shot the guy,” Trystan Terrell appears to say in response to a reporter’s question that was captured on video by WBTV, The Observer’s news partner. Terrell was being escorted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers into CMPD’s headquarters.

Victims identified, one tackled shooter

On Wednesday, the university identified the two students who were killed as Ellis Parlier, 19, of Midland, North Carolina, and Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville, North Carolina.

One of the students who died tackled the shooter and saved other lives, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Wednesday. Howell, an athletically-built young man, “took the assailant off his feet” before campus police officers arrived, Putney told reporters at an afternoon briefing. 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.”

Investigators haven’t found a motive for the shootings, Putney told reporters, and they apparently didn’t target specific people. “The randomness is what’s most concerning,” he said.

Three of the injured students also are from North Carolina, while one is from Saudi Arabia. UNCC identified the four injured students. as: Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saihat, Saudia Arabia; Sean Dehart, 20, of Apex; Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte; and Drew Pescaro, 19, of Apex.

Three of the four injured students were in critical condition. Pescaro was among the injured but had since been released from the hospital, according to his fraternity and the UNCC student newspaper.

Ellis Parlier, one of the students who died, was a 2017 graduate of the Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Union County, a school district spokeswoman said. A friend of his family told The Observer the family would have no comment.

A relative of Riley Howell also asked for privacy for his family. Howell graduated from T.C. Roberson High School in 2016, Buncombe County Schools spokeswoman Stacia Harris confirmed.

Xenna Smith, a high school friend who attends N.C. State University, described Howell as a selfless “ray of sunshine” who had a way of making everyone feel like a friend.

“He was always cracking jokes. He was always smiling about something and making people around him laugh,” Smith said.

No prior record

With the suspect in custody, investigators continued to piece together how and why the students were shot during a class on science and technology. Campus police officers took Terrell into custody in the Kennedy Hall classroom within minutes of the 5:40 p.m. shooting on the last day of spring classes.

The shooter was armed with a handgun but was “not somebody on our radar,” campus police Chief Jeff Baker told reporters.

Terrell has no previous criminal record in North Carolina or Texas, according to state records. He has a first appearance in court scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

He’s charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted first-degree murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, discharging a firearm on educational property and possession of a gun on educational property, according to jail records.

Terrell attended Central Piedmont Community College from fall 2015 through spring 2018, studying for an associate’s degree in science, before transferring to UNCC, a CPCC spokesman said.

WBTV reported that Terrell had withdrawn from all classes at UNCC last semester, except for the class in which the shootings took place.

WBTV, quoting the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, tweeted that the department had issued Terrell a gun purchase permit last Oct. 23 after passing criminal history and mental health background checks. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Tonya Rivens told The Observer she could not confirm that information, citing state confidentiality laws for permit holders.

The handgun used in the shootings was bought legally, Chief Putney said. He said he didn’t know of any mental impairment that had been detected in Terrell.

Rold, Terrell’s grandfather, said the Charlotte campus shooting is the latest in a long line of mass shootings that won’t end until laws reduce the volume of guns readily available.

“It’s unfortunate that in our society it can be so easily perpetrated. He has no background in guns or gun collecting, gun interest,” he told the AP. “And how, in a short period of time, he was able to secure these weapons — legally, illegally, however — is the problem until Congress does something. If Sandy Hook, if Las Vegas, if Florida and these multiple incidents like yesterday can’t get them to move, if they’re more interested in reelection than the value of human life, this thing will continue.”

‘I am devastated’

Anthropology instructor Adam Patrick Johnson tweeted that the shooting occurred during his class, LBST 2213: Science, Technology & Society.

“My students are so special to me and I am devastated,” he said on Twitter.

Students were conducting team presentations as part of the lesson at the time, he said.

UNCC describes itself as an urban research university with more than 29,000 students from 85 countries, and is part of the UNC public university system. It offers undergraduate, graduate and professional programs.

University Chancellor Philip Dubois called Tuesday “the worst day in the history of UNC Charlotte.”

“This shakes us to our very core,” he said.

A vigil was planned for Wednesday, and the governor vowed a hard look to see what can be done to prevent future attacks, the Associated Press reported.

“A student should not have to fear for his or her life when they are on our campuses,” Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, told reporters. “Parents should not have to worry about their students when they send them off to school. And I know that this violence has to stop. ... In the coming days we will take a hard look at all of this to see what we need to do going forward.”

The Associated Press and Charlotte Observer staff writers Bruce Henderson, Jane Wester, Ames Alexander, Gavin Off and Katherine Peralta contributed to this report.

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