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Waynesville Race Honors Riley Howell, Raises Funds Against Gun Violence

Cory Vaillancourt
A memorial quickly began to take shape at Lake Junaluska as word of Riley Howell’s death reached Waynesville in May, 2019. A race in his honor will take place this weekend.";

A race in Haywood County this weekend raises money for survivors of gun violence and honors a fallen hometown hero.

The Mighty Four Miler on Saturday morning supports the Riley Howell Foundation Fund.  It’s been almost two years now since Riley Howell, a Waynesville native, was killed during a shooting at UNC Charlotte.

“It helps us remember Riley and who he was – and it hopefully means that he wasn’t defined by what happened at UNC Charlotte. And it helps us raise more money to help more people in his name, which I think is something that he would be proud of,” said Kevin Westmoreland is the secretary of the foundation, and the father of Howell’s longtime girlfriend.

There is also a half-marathon race happening on Saturday. There are still a few spots for registration in the race.

Credit Courtesy of Riley Howell Foundation Fund
The pandemic postponed the Mighty Four Miler race for a year. Now the race for the Riley Howell Foundation Fund will take place on Saturday.

Howell is credited with tackling the gunman who opened fire on a campus  classroom, saving the lives of many other students. One other student, Reed Parlier, was also killed.

Westmoreland says that the lack of change in gun violence prevention two years later leaves him feeling beaten down -  especially after the two recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.  

“When that happens we know how those people feel. We know the pain and the hurt and the emptiness and how your life is changed in a second. And we don’t want any more people to have to go through that,” said Westmoreland.

Westmoreland says he and Howell both owned guns and went shooting together. But he is in favor ofcommon sense” gun laws for example: universal background checks, red flag laws and bans on assault weapons. He says shootings like Boulder show him what assault weapons were made for.

“That tells me that they are meant for mass human destruction, it’s not for hunting or just target practice, they’re meant for a certain thing and I don’t think we need them,” said Westmoreland.

Last year’s race was postponed because of the pandemic. In order to comply with current North Carolina COVID-19 guidelines, groups of 40 or fewer runners will start every 10 minutes. Face coverings are required until runners start the race. During the race it must be on anytime they are within 10’ of a person not living in their household.

“We’re just looking forward to having a good day outside and spending the day with people that we love and care about and care about Riley,” said Westmoreland.

Organizers expect at least a few hundred people to participate in the race. Howell has also been honored in other ways.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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