The University of North Carolina at Charlotte student who died after tackling the gunman in last week’s campus shooting was remembered at a memorial service with military honors on Sunday, where close friends and family recalled a humble young man who loved the outdoors and was kind to everyone he met.
Authorities have said that Riley Howell, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet at UNCC, charged the shooter after he opened fire with a pistol in a classroom last Tuesday, saving the lives of others.
Howell was killed, along with 19-year-old Reed Parlier of Midland, North Carolina. Four others were injured.
“Maybe it was God that moved the levers, that put Riley in that classroom on that day, at the exact time for the purpose of saving others,” said Kevin Westmoreland, the father of Howell’s girlfriend, Lauren.
“It was not out of character for him,” he said, “and maybe someone in that room is here for a greater purpose, and it was Riley’s destiny to sacrifice himself for them.”
Howell’s Celebration of Life service took place in the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, outside of Howell’s hometown of Waynesville, where his body was brought home earlier in the week with a police escort, CNN affiliate WBTV reported.
According to his obituary, Howell “was an adventurous guy who loved the outdoors, whether that was kayaking through inlets on the ocean, canoeing down cold mountain rivers, or screaming with excitement as he tried to do a front flip off the rope swing at Fontana Lake.”
Those who knew him best said Sunday that Howell was a “free spirit” who was kind to everyone he met. He was funny and loved cooking and valued being self-taught. He had a “passion and zest for life,” said Reverend Dr. Robert Blackburn, who officiated the service.
“He’s a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated human being that came into this world as a child of God,” Blackburn said. “God made the squirrel and the robin and the mountain stream, and God said, ‘That’s good.'”
“But God made Riley,” Blackburn added, “and God said, ‘That’s the best I can do. He’s made in my image.'”
In keeping with Howell’s nature, the family also announced they were starting the Riley Howell Foundation, which would aim to help families who have been affected by “senseless acts of violence,” starting with Parlier’s.
“Riley died the way he lived, putting others first,” his obituary read. “Our hope is that his example resonates with everyone. We hope others will, if ever the need arises, answer the call to be selfless and do the right thing without hesitation.”