The parents of a student who was killed while tackling a gunman at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte said they are heartbroken at the thought of another family going through the same pain following a shooting near Denver.
Riley Howell, 21, was fatally shot when he hurled himself at a gunman in a classroom at UNCC on April 30.
Authorities said he knocked the gunman off his feet and helped end what could have been a deadlier massacre.
“He took the fight to the assailant. Unfortunately, he had to give his life to do so, but he saved lives doing so,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney said.
A week later, a shooter opened fire on May 7 at a charter school in suburban Denver. Kendrick Castillo, 18, charged him and gave his classmates time to take cover or bolt.
At UNCC, two students were killed and four others wounded while in Colorado, Castillo was fatally shot and an additional eight people injured.
‘This Is Just Prevalent in Our Communities’
Howell’s parents, Thomas, and Natalie Henry Howell said they are devastated that as they try to adjust to life without their son, another shooting has shattered a community near Denver, hundreds of miles from their hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina.
“We are just beyond proud of what he was able to do,” Natalie and Thomas Howell, parents of UNC Charlotte shooting victim Riley Howell, speak out about their son, who’s being called a hero pic.twitter.com/lglXahkY9p
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 2, 2019
The past few days have been difficult, especially watching their children face a new reality without their beloved brother, they said.
“Watching my kids try to walk their way through life, through these last few days without Riley, it’s just—how to sustain them when it’s really hard to sustain ourselves,” Howell’s mother told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Learning about the shooting near Denver just days later was a jarring reminder on how common school shootings have become, she said.
“The pain of losing my child and never ever seeing him again … Just watching people being torn up just like we are, that this is just prevalent in our communities,” she said.
In an era of mass shootings, survival tactics taught at schools have included lessons on running, barricading or fighting. Where people were once advised to flee or shelter in place, the new mantra for surviving an active shooter situation now is “run, hide, fight.”
Thomas and Natalie appeared on Cumo Prime Time last night.
Natalie stated she wanted the light in Riley’s life to outshine this darkness. She also said we must galvanize together to fix this problem.
Riley’s Uncle Matt-Sale Howell has mourners sign, “I love you,” for Riley. pic.twitter.com/OGqCH1EdBs
— Lisa – Say Their Names (@meg_Y12) May 9, 2019
‘I’m Still Trying to Make Minute by Minute’
Howell’s father said he’s broken at the loss of his son, but he is not surprised that he decided to fight with little regard for himself.
“I’m still trying to make minute by minute, still trying to take a breath. My despair and my utter sadness is in the fact that I think Riley was put in that situation because I knew exactly what he was going to do,” he said.
“The fact that that ever happened to start with. We all know that Riley’s a protector and that was going to happen given any type of situation like that. I’m having a hard time dealing with the fact that that situation ever came up.”
Even as they mourn their son, nicknamed Blonde Tarzan for his golden hair, Howell’s mother said the past week has been a mix of emotions.
“I think I’ve seen the worst and the best of humanity. I’ve seen somebody without regard for the sanctity of life and then I’ve seen this huge outpouring from family, friends, and strangers of pure love. I’m in this very strange place … but my heart goes out completely to these other families and communities who are going through the exact same thing,” she said.
Howell loved soccer, his family and the outdoors, and considered joining the military or firefighting before he enrolled in college, his family said in a statement.
His family called for action and dialogue to help stop the senseless shootings that have become almost a weekly occurrence, with 15 school shootings in the US in which someone was hurt or killed 19 weeks into 2019.
“While I’m angry and I feel embattled, at the same time we have to instead of just lionize (the heroes in such situations) we have to galvanize. And we have to figure out how to come up with some constructive dialogue to keep this from happening. There just has to be some dialogue from people all around,” Natalie Howell said.
They plan to start the Riley Howell Foundation to help other families affected by violence.