The body of Riley Howell was returned to his hometown of Waynesville Thursday via a procession of police that traveled from Charlotte. Howell and a fellow UNC Charlotte student were killed Tuesday after a gunman started firing into a classroom on campus. Howell died after tackling the guman, saving untold numbers of lives according to police.
That he acted that way was no surprise to Howell’s high school soccer coach. Howell was a goalkeeper on the soccer team at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, where his coach was Josh Martin, who called Howell a leader and a very mature person for his age. “Quiet leadership would be the best way to describe him," Martin said at a press conference Thursday in Asheville. "He was a backup goalie for us, so quite vocal on the field as you might imagine. But overall just a quiet (leader), a stoicism.”
Even though he was the coach and Howell was the player, Martin says he got more and learned more from Howell than Howell likely got from him. “My greatest memory of Riley was a 10-hour bus ride we had to Emerald Island, North Carolina. He was reading Lord of the Rings on a bus, about 110 degrees on the bus. And I couldn’t believe that he was able to do that as I’m one who gets a bit of a stomach ache when I try to read in a moving vehicle.”
Tristen Plemmons was Howell's English teacher his sophomore and senior years at Roberson. "I can only think of one way to describe his passing - and that's heart wrenching," Plemmons said at the press conference. "In a world that can be so very cruel, I think it's of the utmost importance to remember that the world is still filled with good people. Like Riley."
By tackling the gunman and sacrificing his own life by doing so, Howell is being called a hero by many, including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief Kerr Putney who said Howell saved countless lives. When asked if he viewed Howell as a hero, his soccer coach said, “Yes. But I wish he was just a college student.”
A memorial service will be held Sunday evening at 5 p.m. Lake Junaluska's Stuart Auditorium.