Athletic outdoorsman, tech enthusiast killed in NC classroom

RUSS BYNUM and EMERY P. DALESIO
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In this Sept. 1, 2017 photo provided by Matthew Westmoreland, Riley Howell, right, is seen. Authorities say Howell, 21, was killed after he tackled a gunman who opened fire in a classroom at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Police said a few students, including Howell, died and several others were injured. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Howell's actions likely saved the lives of other students. (Matthew Westmoreland via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Riley Howell had an athlete's physique and loved working outdoors on his family's farm. Ellis Parlier studied computer technology and liked video games.

Both of them were wrapping up the semester in the same anthropology class at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte when a gunman opened fire in the classroom. Howell and Parlier were killed in the attack Tuesday, and four other students were wounded.

Howell, 21, of Waynesville was hailed as a hero as stunned friends and family grieved in the aftermath Wednesday. A runner and former soccer player, Howell charged the shooter and tackled him before being fatally wounded, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney.

Those closest to Howell weren't surprised. He was "a big, muscular guy with a huge heart," Howell's family said in a statement Wednesday. The father of his longtime girlfriend, Lauren Westmoreland, said Howell would have made a fine firefighter or paramedic.

"If what happened in that room is what they say, I completely see Riley doing that," said Kevin Westmoreland, whose daughter was Howell's girlfriend of nearly six years. "He was just the kind of person, if someone tripped and fell, he would be the first one to try to help them."

Howell and Lauren started dating at age 15 when they met in high school in the Asheville area. They stayed together even after deciding to attend colleges in separate cities. Lauren's father said they wanted to finish college before planning a future together.

"It's been the hardest day of her life," Kevin Westmoreland said of his daughter.

Howell was enrolled in a second semester of ROTC courses at UNC-Charlotte, though he wasn't among those pursuing a career as a military officer, said Lt. Col. Chunka Smith, who runs the school's Army ROTC program. Howell would have been taught in ROTC to seek cover if confronted by a gunman rather than fight, Smith said.

"But I just believe it's inherent in those who take the class, based off of their backgrounds and their upbringing ... that someone would actually sacrifice themselves for others," Smith said.

Parlier was a 19-year-old student from Midland, in the Charlotte area, who graduated from Central Academy of Technology and Arts in 2017. His studies there focused on information technology and computer technology, said Tahira Stalberte, a spokeswoman for Union County Public Schools.

Flags outside Parlier's former high school flew at half-staff in his memory Wednesday.

"It's very shocking as you can imagine," Stalberte told The Greenville News . "Our community is still in shock in dealing with this loss."

A woman who answered the phone at the home of Parlier's parents Wednesday said the family had no immediate comment.

Jeremy Shue said he and Parlier had been friends since the 6th grade and both of them went on to attend UNC-Charlotte. Parlier had a love for video games, Shue said, and had a caring personality.

"He was really funny and super nice," Shue told CBS News . "I'll remember him as a passionate guy who was a great friend and resource."

The students injured in the classroom attack were identified as Sean Dehart, 20, and Drew Pescaro, 19, both of Apex, North Carolina; Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte; and Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saihat, Saudia Arabia. UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Philip DuBois said Wednesday that Dehart had been released from the hospital and the others were expected to recover.

A former student, Trystan Andrew Terrell, was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder.

Pescaro was visited in his Charlotte hospital room Tuesday night by his parents, brother, girlfriend and fraternity brothers, said UNC-Charlotte football coach Will Healy. Pescaro is a paid video assistant for the team, analyzing practice film, said Healy, who visited the hospital and spoke with Pescaro's parents.

"It becomes extremely real whenever you're that close with somebody and that close to a place that that happens. You see it on the news all the time, but for it to happen right in your backyard is terrifying," Healy said.

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Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia. Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, also contributed.