HENDERSON COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — Friday, April 30, marks two years since the horrific shooting at UNC Charlotte that left two people dead — Reid Parlier and Riley Howell.
Howell, a Waynesville native and UNC Charlotte student, tackled the shooter on campus to protect his classmates, sacrificing his life.
Natalie Henry Howell, Riley’s mother, said it’s been an excruciating 730 days since. She said April 30, 2021, isn’t any easier than April 30, 2020.
“It’s worse, actually. Year one, you’re in a fog, and, year two, it starts hitting you,” she said.
She said her family always finds solace in nature, so they began year two without Riley by watching the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“Just knowing the time I got the news and the trauma, having to relive the trauma. These anniversary days are particularly tough,” she said.
But Riley’s family and friends don’t just relive that trauma every April 30. They go through it every time they hear of another life lost to gun violence.
“When we hear something on the news and it seems like its every day. It’s not every day, but it feels that way. It takes me back to the day that Riley was killed, the next day after that. I know what these people are going through and what these families are going to be feeling,” said Kevin Westmoreland, the father of Riley Howell’s girlfriend.
“There’s not even a word strong enough for it. It’s the permanent emptiness in your heart, which is already smashed and broken in two. You’re just like, ‘Oh, gosh, another family, another community,'” Henry Howell said.
They’re focusing that pain into a mission. They rallied outside the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hendersonville on Friday night, pushing to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
“We want universal background checks, we want mandatory waiting periods, we want red flag laws that can stop people that might be a danger to themselves and others,” Westmoreland said.
Riley’s family and friends were joined by others they’ve connected with through this tragedy. People like John Owens, a Hendersonville resident whose life was also turned upside down by gun violence. For him, this fight is just as personal.
“I was shot and nearly killed 16 years ago. It was a horrific experience for myself and for my family. But, I’m a lucky one. I’m a survivor,” Owens said. “I feel myself very lucky when I hear stories like Natalie’s and other gun violence survivors that have lost children to senseless acts of gun violence all over this country.”
Howell’s mother said protecting other families from this pain is how they continue his legacy of selflessness.
“To me, getting out here and trying to move this forward, this gun violence prevention, these gun safety issues forward, continues his work. As his mother, that’s the only way I can be walking beside him right now, because I know that’s what he gave his life for,” she said.
That’s also why she and Westmoreland, among others, began the Riley Howell Foundation Fund shortly after his passing.
“We formed the Riley Howell Foundation Fund, and that specifically is to help victims of gun violence get the resources they need and be able to talk to folks they can talk to, to just get through the next day, the next week, the next month,” Westmoreland said.
They said this fight is about taking care of others, just like Riley Howell did, down to his final moments.
“We stand here today for all the victims and survivors of gun violence to say, ‘Congress, have the courage to act,'” Henry Howell said. “We as a country, we need to do better with it because it’s just devastating.”
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