Trystan Andrew Terrell’s stunned grandfather says he would never have imagined the quiet young man could be capable of firing a handgun in a UNC Charlotte classroom. Terrell is charged with killing two former classmates and wounding four more this week.
The grandson Paul Rold knew in Texas had learned Portuguese and French and dreamed of working in South America.
“I don’t think Trystan had ever held a gun in his hand,” Rold said in an interview Friday. The 79-year-old retired machinist in Arlington, Texas added, “Never in a million years would you have thought he could do this. It’s still up in the air what motivated him.”
Investigators also don’t know what motivated the shooter, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Wednesday.
Terrell, 22, declined to appear at an initial court appearance Thursday. He’s being held on murder and assault charges.
Terrell grew up in Texas but moved with his father Craig, an auditor for the city of Charlotte, to North Carolina a few years ago, Rold said. He said they wanted a fresh start and new surroundings after Terrell’s mother passed away in 2011. An older sister lives in Baltimore.
His grandson is autistic, Rold said, and socially reserved.
“He was not bubbly and effervescent, rather shy, quiet, studious, not athletic,” he said. “I tried to get him into baseball and golf — his dad and sister are soccer players — but he had no interest.”
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others, the Autism Society says. Among behaviors associated with autism are difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation and with functions that relate to reasoning and planning, it says.
Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities, according to the society.
Struggling to get treatment
After attending Central Piedmont Community College from 2015 to 2018, studying for an associate’s degree in science, Terrell enrolled at UNC Charlotte. He was taking three classes there this semester, including the course on science and technology where the shootings occurred, before withdrawing.
Cooper Creech, a former classmate, had told the Observer Terrell rarely spoke in the science and technology class but “would blurt out statements,” and sometimes seemed oddly angry. UNCC lecturer Adam Johnson, who taught the class, wrote in a blog post Thursday that Terrell had seemed engaged and answered questions.
Craig Terrell had written a blog post in 2016 about his struggles to get treatment for his son’s autism, Rold said. “It isn’t easy as people on TV say it is,” he said. Craig Terrell hasn’t been allowed to speak with his son since his arrest but is expected to do so Friday, Rold said.
Rold said he doesn’t believe that his grandson is mentally ill, “but then I’m not a psychologist. I can’t say I believe he did (have a mental illness). You would never have believed this could have happened, that he would have done something like this.”
Terrell has no criminal record in North Carolina or Texas, public records show. He wasn’t active on social media. The handgun used in the UNC Charlotte shootings was legally purchased, Putney told reporters.
Blames gun laws
Johnson, the UNC Charlotte lecturer, described in his blog post the chaos in the classroom as the shooter opened fire Tuesday evening and students bolted for the door.
“Before opening fire, the shooter said nothing, did not indicate that they were going to shoot; simply raised the gun and started to fire,” Johnson wrote, citing fellow survivors as sources.
Students told him the shooter apparently stopped shooting of his own accord, laying down the gun after emptying its magazine. “I’m done,” they quoted him as saying.
Terrell’s former classmates Ellis Parlier and Riley Howell died in the attack. Howell, 21, has been hailed as a hero for tackling the shooter before he was fatally shot. His funeral will be Sunday near his hometown of Waynesville.
Rold said he blames gun laws for making weapons too easy to obtain.
“If he had not been able to secure a weapon, this would never have happened,” he said.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Why we named the UNCC shooting suspect
After the fatal shooting April 30 at UNC Charlotte, some people on social media urged The Observer and other media outlets not to name the suspect or show his face. They argued that mass shooters seek notoriety, and news outlets should not reward them with it.
We understand and appreciate this sentiment, and debated in the newsroom about whether to name the suspect. In the end, we decided that any harm of naming him and showing his image was outweighed by the public’s right and need to know a key fact from an event of such huge public importance.
At The Observer, we believe it is important, almost all of the time, to give our readers all the relevant information we can on news of our city, region and state. We believe that the public deserves to know what we know, and we don’t want to hide information from them, except in certain cases where it could harm an innocent person, such as a rape victim. The logic that would lead us to withhold the suspect’s name in this case could be used to argue for withholding other salient facts from other stories.
By not naming him, we arguably are not holding him accountable.
We understand that some readers will not want to see his name or face; many other readers will.
It’s a difficult issue. We agree that the suspect should not be glorified or given a spotlight. And so we have intentionally not run his photograph prominently, in print or online.
At The Observer, we constantly make judgment calls. In this case, we believe the people’s right to know facts of public importance overrides concerns about giving the suspect undeserved attention.