‘Our family, our friends, our sons.’ Honoring the UNCC students killed on campus

UNC Charlotte community grieves the the loss, injury of students

UNC Charlotte students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the public attended shared their grief during a candlelight vigil for the students killed and injured during a campus shooting the previous day.
Up Next
UNC Charlotte students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the public attended shared their grief during a candlelight vigil for the students killed and injured during a campus shooting the previous day.

UNC Charlotte students Riley Howell and Ellis Parlier grew up in different parts of North Carolina, each from small towns about 170 miles apart. They didn’t have much in common. Howell loved sports and being outside; Parlier dreamed of developing video games one day.

The fates of the two young men tragically intertwined this week, when a gunman opened fire on campus Tuesday evening, killing Howell and Parlier and injuring four others.

Howell, 21, was from Waynesville, outside of Asheville, and majored in environmental science, according to a memo Wednesday from UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois. Parlier, 19, was from Midland, about 20 miles east of Charlotte, and had intended to major in computer science.

The UNC Charlotte faculty has approved degrees in memoriam for them, Dubois said in his memo addressed to students, faculty and staff.

“Some of us knew these young men as our students, our classmates, our friends, our family, our sons,” Dubois said. “For all of us, they were fellow members of Niner Nation, and we will learn and forever remember their names and their legacy.”

UNCC also said four students 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. Dubois said he visited three victims in the hospital. He confirmed that Dehart was released Tuesday. He said his understanding was that two students would be released, but Pescaro would be kept in the hospital.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney says 21-year-old student, Riley Howell, was a hero in the April 30, 2019 shooting at UNC Charlotte. He was lauded for taking action and saving lives by tackling the gunman.

‘A big heart’

Howell, who transferred from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in fall 2018, was hailed as a hero following the shooting. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters at a Wednesday press conference that Howell saved lives by tackling the shooter.

That behavior jibes with the Howell remembered by Xenna Smith, a high school friend who attends N.C. State University. She described Howell as a selfless “ray of sunshine” who had a way of making everyone feel like a friend.

His family and longtime girlfriend Lauren Westmoreland were interviewed Thursday by NBC’s “Today” show and told the network they were comforted by details Putney shared of how Howell conducted himself.

“We are just beyond proud of what he was able to do,” Natalie Henry-Howell, Riley’s mother, told “Today.” “While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter.”

“If he was in the room when something like that was happening, and he had turned away, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself,” she told the show.

Howell’s 14-year-old brother, Teddy, told “Today” that he has no doubt his brother acted heroically. “He put others before himself...He always has,” he said in the interview.

Howell graduated from T.C. Roberson High School in 2016, Buncombe County Schools spokeswoman Stacia Harris confirmed. His mother works at Valley Springs Middle School, she added.

Riley Howell’s graduation photo from TC Roberson High School WTBV

Howell’s family said in a statement that he enjoyed “Star Wars,” cars, snowboarding, going to the lake and spending time with his girlfriend.

“He was always able to put others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone who needed it. He was friends with anyone and everyone — a big muscular guy with a big heart,” Howell’s family said in a statement.

In a series of statements released by the Buncombe school district Wednesday, Howell’s teachers and coaches wrote that he was cheerful and loved the outdoors.

He was “easy to love” and loved others, English teacher Tristen Plemmons wrote. She said she could still remember where Howell sat in her classroom, adding that he was full of enthusiasm for life.

Two people were killed and four injured in a shooting on the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus April 30, 2019. Here’s what we know so far.

Howell played soccer and ran cross country in high school, according to his coaches. He picked up cross country late, joining the team as a senior, coach Andrew Devine said in a statement.

Soccer coach Josh Martin wrote that Howell was committed to serving others, even in his final moments.

“He will be missed and remembered as an individual, who, in the moment of greatest peril, sacrificed for the lives of others ... We join countless communities who have experienced the same violence in mourning one of our sons, one of our brothers, one of our students, one of our players, one of our own,” Martin said.

‘Independent and motivated’

Ellis Parlier, who went by the nickname Reed, graduated from Central Academy of Technology and Arts, a magnet high school in Monroe whose curriculum focuses on medical science, performing arts and pre-engineering, among other areas. He loved to play video games, and dreamed of one day becoming a game developer, Dubois said in a statement.

Ellis Reed Parlier
Ellis R. Parlier was killed in a shooting at UNCC April 30, 2019. Parlier enrolled in fall 2017 and planned to study computer science WBTV

As a high schooler, Parlier volunteered as a computer programming tutor for middle school students.

“Our community is still in shock and is dealing with this loss,” said Tahira Stalberte, a spokeswoman for Union County Public Schools.

Andrew Houlihan, superintendent of Union County Public Schools, tweeted that hearts across the school system were heavy on Wednesday.

Quoting a Parlier family spokesperson, WSOC-TV reported that “the family is still in shock and grieving over their loss.”

James Spicer, who lives next door to Parlier’s family, spoke highly of them on Wednesday.

“We know the family fairly well,” Spicer said. “We know his parents. ... They’re just super good people.”

“It’s just a heartbreaking tragedy.”

In his statement, Dubois said that professors described Parlier as “independent and motivated.”

Casey Bigham, 19, told the Observer on Wednesday that he and Parlier were close friends at Central Academy.

Parlier was one of the first friends that Bigham made at the school, Bigham wrote in a message over Twitter.

“He was really quiet at first, which was normal if he didn’t know someone very well,” Bigham wrote. “But through those four years of high school, he grew to be one of my best and closest friends.

“Almost everyday for those four years, I sat, talked, and joked with Reed and some of our other friends. He was one of the smartest, kindest and most hilarious people I have ever been lucky enough to meet and get to know.”

Bigham, also a UNC Charlotte student, said that he was inside his dorm on campus when the shooting took place. He said the last time he saw Parlier was on campus about a week or two ago.

“As described by another one of our friends, Josh, he was the most stubborn person on Earth along with the smartest and he knew how to make any situation work for him,” Bigham wrote.

“He had such a bright future, in a field that he was so passionate about.”

Members of the UNC Charlotte family gathered in Halton Arena for a memorial in honor of the students shot and killed in a campus shooting the previous day.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.