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'We are just beyond proud:' Riley Howell's parents, siblings remember heroic UNCC student

"While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter. I can picture him being big, and large, and trying to protect people behind him and he just died in the process of taking him down."

For Riley Howell's parents, it's not hard to see their son making the ultimate sacrifice to save others. 

"We are just beyond proud of what he was able to do during that incident at the school," said Natalie Howell, Riley's mother.

"While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran towards the shooter. And I can just picture it, I can picture him being big, and large, and trying to protect people behind him and he just died in the process of taking him down."

Police said the 21-year-old had no option to run or hide, so he took the fight to a gunman who opened fire in Howell's classroom Tuesday afternoon. The shooting left two students, including Howell, dead and four others hurt, but his actions saved countless lives. 

On Wednesday, T.C. Roberson High School, Howell's alma mater in Waynesville, paid tribute to him with a moment of silence at a playoff soccer game. Howell played soccer at T.C. Roberson and ran track. 

Those who knew him in Waynesville say he was one of a kind. He had a huge heart. 

"You ask anybody, pretty much, around here and they know the name Riley Howell," said one person. "He was a good guy."

RELATED: Friends, family remember UNCC victim Ellis 'Reed' Parlier as funny, bright

RELATED: UNCC community comes together for candlelight vigil to honor victims

Thousands of grieving students, faculty and community members gathered at UNCC's Halton Arena Wednesday night to honor Howell and Ellis "Reed" Parlier. A large memorial of candles, flowers and posters was built on the steps of Kennedy Hall, where the shooting took place. 

For Howell's younger siblings, he was more than just a big brother and his selfless act was Riley Howell doing what he'd always do: help others. 

"All of these people are calling him a hero and stuff but he's always been my hero," Howell's younger brother told NBC News. "There's nothing like a big brother and I just really love him so much."

A GoFundMe was set up for Howell's family. As of 6:25 a.m. Thursday, the campaign had raised over $10,925 in 14 hours, well exceeding the $5,000 goal.

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