(Reuters) – Riley Howell loved “Star Wars,” snowboarding and his high school sweetheart, Lauren – but most of all, his family said, the 21-year-old student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte loved taking care of others.
Howell’s final act was a selfless one, police said on Wednesday, when he charged a gunman who had opened fire inside a UNC classroom on Tuesday. He was shot dead, but he managed to take the attacker down, allowing others to disarm him, according to authorities.
Another student, Ellis Parlier, was killed in the attack, and four other students were wounded but are expected to recover.
Riley Howell, 21
Howell, an environmental studies student, was a 2016 graduate of T.C. Roberson High School, where he was a member of the soccer and cross-country teams.
The Howell family released a statement on Wednesday, TV station WSOC reported, saying he “radiated love and always will.”
“He loved ‘Star Wars,’ birds, cars, snowboarding, going to the lake, Kentucky Hot Browns cooking from scratch with cast iron while listening to the Feel Good Classic Soul playlist, and his Lauren,” the statement said, referring to Howell’s longtime girlfriend, Lauren Westmoreland. “He could also put away a pizza.”
Westmoreland wrote on Facebook, “I just don’t really have any words. I keep hoping and hoping I will wake up from this awful dream, but I know that I won’t.”
Numerous staff members from Howell’s high school remembered him as a popular student who was rarely seen without a smile and whose heroics on Tuesday reflected his devotion to others.
“I remember Riley’s enthusiasm for life, infectious smile, and bright-eyed amiability,” said his English teacher, Tristen Plemmons, in a statement released by the school district. “I can think of only one way to describe his passing — heart-wrenching.”
Howell previously attended elementary and middle school in nearby Haywood County, according to the superintendent, Bill Nolte.
“He was a bright student, very likeable,” Nolte said in a phone interview.
Ellis Parlier, 19
Parlier, of Midland, North Carolina, graduated in 2017 from Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Monroe, North Carolina, a magnet school, according to a spokeswoman for the Union County public school district.
While in high school, Parlier focused his studies on information technology. A classmate at UNC, Jeremy Shue, who had been friends with Parlier since sixth grade, told CBS News that Parlier loved playing video games.
“He was really funny and super nice,” Shue told the network. “I’ll remember him as a passionate guy who was a great friend and resource.”
A friend of the Ellis family said in a statement that the family was still in shock and would not have any comment at this time, WSOC reported.
Drew Pescaro, 19
Pescaro, who was injured in the attack, is a sportswriter for the student newspaper, the Niner Times. The paper said on Twitter that Pescaro underwent surgery on Tuesday night and is in stable condition.
Pescaro is also a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and a video assistant for the UNC football team. He grew up in Rutland, Massachusetts, before moving to Apex, North Carolina, according to his Facebook page, and graduated from Middle Creek High School.
“Being on campus during a school shooting is scary enough,” friend and classmate, Daniel Engman wrote on Twitter. “Having a man, great friend, and brother get injured in the shooting is a whole other level. Love you Drew, everyone is #DrewStrong right now.”
Rami Alramadhan, 20
Alramadhan, of Saudi Arabia, was wounded in the attack. His family was en route to the United States, according to officials.
Emily Houpt, 23
Houpt, who was injured in the attack, was about to graduate with a degree in international/global studies. She also minored in political science and in Holocaust, genocide and human rights, and currently works as an intern at the nonprofit World Affairs Council of Charlotte, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“During my time at UNCC, I have learned a great deal about human rights in the United States and around the globe,” she wrote at the site. “My goal is to find a position with an organization that seeks to protect human rights in any way, be it through advocacy or service.”
Sean DeHart, 20
DeHart, who was wounded in the shooting, grew up in Shelton, Connecticut before moving to Apex, North Carolina, according to his Facebook page. He attended Cardinal Gibbons High School, a private Roman Catholic school in Raleigh.
Reporting by Joseph Ax and Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis