Putney: Deceased Shooting Victim Riley Howell A Hero

May 1, 2019

On the day after a deadly shooting on the campus of UNC Charlotte, university, police, and city officials held a press conference in which more details were revealed about the deadly incident. One of the most important takeaways was about one of the students who died. Police say he was a hero. 

WFAE’s Sarah Delia was at that press conference. She joined "All Things Considered" host Mark Rumsey to discuss it.

MARK RUMSEY: Sarah, what was the young man’s name police are crediting with playing a major role in stopping the accused shooter?

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SARAH DELIA: His name was Riley Howell, he was 21 years-old from Waynesville — that’s in western N.C.. And both the UNCC police and CMPD are crediting Riley with helping to stop the shooting. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said there’s no doubt about it, the shooting which occurred on UNCC’s campus yesterday afternoon, would have been much worse had Riley not intervened. Here's what Putney said:

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney updates reporters the day after a deadly shooting on UNCC's campus.
Credit SARAH DELIA

PUTNEY: "He took the fight to the assailant, and he unfortunately had to give his life doing so but he saved lives doing so. What he did was he took the assailant off his feet and the heroes we have here were able to apprehend from there."

REPORTER: "And we can say that he tackled him?"

PUTNEY: "That would be an understatement, but that would be fair."

DELIA: This was one of the most somber press conferences I’ve ever been to. You could see it on the faces of Mayor Vi Lyles, District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and Sheriff Garry McFadden. This has been a hard week for a lot of people to process.

RUMSEY: What other details were shared during that press conference?

DELIA: The accused shooter was a former UNCC student — we don’t know when he stopped being one. Putney said that the handgun used in the shooting was purchased legally by the assailant and that the police found a significant amount of ammunition — again he wouldn’t go into specifics. It doesn’t appear that the suspect has a criminal record.

And again, it was stressed that this person was not on the radar of the school or law enforcement as someone who was a suspicious person or someone to be concerned by. It was also revealed that the UNCC police officers who arrived on the scene were wearing body worn cameras and that footage will be examined during the CMPD investigation. Putney also said based on the evidence before them currently, the man in custody is the only person of interest.

RUMSEY: Of course, a question on the minds of many is why did this person commit this act of violence? Was anything shared about a possible motive?

DELIA: That’s the question everyone wants an answer to. And Chief Putney said police are having a difficult time figuring it out. Here's what he said:

PUTNEY: "Unfortunately this is an incident that really strikes a chord with us all because we can’t discern the why just yet. It really appears that there was no specific person and the randomness is what is most concerning."

DELIA: Putney did go on to say that the building where the shooting took place was targeted.

RUMSEY: Did UNC Charlotte give any indication on where it goes from here?

DELIA: Well, there will be a vigil tonight. And the campus will resume its normal operating hours tomorrow. Exams will be delayed through Sunday and UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois said professors will be working on the most appropriate way for students to take their exams and walk at graduation.

He also added that if a campus wants to be an open one, a tragedy like this one is hard to avoid. Here's Dubois:

DUBOIS:  "We have, I think, done everything possible. I don’t believe you can stop a determined assailant and still have an open campus and we have obviously chosen to have an open campus. It’s a terrible tragedy but I think through the combined works of first-responders and Riley we avoided much greater loss of life. We're quite thankful for that, of course."

DELIA: And we should add the accused shooter will be in court Thursday.