CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) — A petition was filed Wednesday asking the White House to give UNC Charlotte student and ROTC Cadet Riley Howell a military funeral.
Howell died a hero one day before the petition was filed when he tackled a gunman who had opened fire in a classroom on the UNCC campus. Police say the 21-year-old’s actions delayed the shooter, giving police more time to respond and fellow students a chance to escape.
“Riley was an ROTC cadet and would have served his country. Instead, he died saving the lives of his classmates,” the petition reads. “For his heroism, we ask the Riley be given a burial with full military honors.”
As of 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the petition had just over 3,000 signatures, with a goal of 100,000 needed by May 31.
Lieutenant Colonel Chunka Smith, who runs UNCC’s ROTC program that Howell participated in, told CBS News that Howell “stood out.” Smith said he’s not surprised Howell gave his life for others, and he feels a sense of pride in what his cadet did.
“I do. Absolutely,” Smith said. “As a soldier, we understand what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
That sentiment was shared by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, who spoke about Howell’s selfless act at a press conference on Wednesday.
Putney said Howell “did exactly what we train people to do: You’re either going to run, you’re going to hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant. Having no place to run and hide, he did the last.”
“His sacrifice saved lives,” Putney added.
On Thursday, Howell’s body was taken from Charlotte to his hometown of Waynesville. The procession had a police escort the entire way, and people lined the streets to honor the fallen student.
People already gathering in Waynesville to honor the UNCC Student who gave his life trying to stop the gunman. A procession with his body is heading to the funeral home. This young man’s sign caught my eye pic.twitter.com/eHWSsa9oQ5 — Steve Ohnesorge WBTV (@WBTVSteveO) May 2, 2019
Nineteen-year-old Ellis R. Parlier of Midland, NC, was killed along with Howell in the shooting.
Four other students – 20-year-old Rami Alramadhan of Saudi Arabia, 20-year-old Sean Dehart of Apex, NC, 23-year-old Emily Houpt of Charlotte, and 19-year-old Drew Pescaro of Apex, NC – were injured.
If not for Howell’s heroic actions, officials say, more lives would have been at risk.