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Day of Remembrance: UNC Charlotte commemorates 3-year anniversary of campus shooting

On April 30, 2019, two students were killed and four others wounded after a gunman opened fire on the final day of class inside Kennedy Hall.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Saturday, April 30, marks three years since a gunman opened fire on the final day of class inside Kennedy Hall. Two students, Reed Parlier and Riley Howell, were killed. Four others were hurt: Drew Pescaro, Rami Alramadhan, Emily Houpt and Sean Dehart.

On the first anniversary of the shooting, the Niner Nation was unable to gather in person to grieve and honor the memories of Parlier and Howell, due to the earliest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last year, the campus community gathered for multiple events, many of which took place again this year. 

"That is a central word when I think of niner nation," one person said at the wreath-laying on Friday. "Community."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: UNCC remembers Riley Howell and Ellis Reed Parlier on the second anniversary of school shooting

'Sharing and expressing about it is what helps to get through it'

Three years ago, Drew Pescaro walked into the Kennedy building for a group presentation. He said he thinks about those life-changing moments every single day and knows he is lucky to be alive.

“It does hit me and in the sense that everything that I’ve done since that day, there was a big percentage chance that I would’ve done none of that,” Pescaro told WCNC Charlotte’s Chloe Leshner.

It’s a day that’s defined his life. He admits he’s struggled with what happened to him now being such a big part of his identity, but in the past year, he’s worked on coming to terms with it.

“You never truly can get to a point of acceptance, or I guess even belief," he said. "I know it happened but it’s just still insane." 

Pescaro graduated last May. A month later he got married, moved to Raleigh, and now works for the Carolina Hurricanes. All huge and happy life milestones that he navigated while dealing with PTSD.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Drew Pescaro graduates 2 years after surviving shooting at UNCC

“There’s no game plan with how to live with it or handle it or whatever,” he said. “But I feel like it’s gotten easier to coexist as both the victim/survivor but also just the kid from North Carolina that works in pro-sports and like video games and all these other things.”

He’s found a way to turn his tragedy into a new purpose. 

Pescaro talks openly about how therapy and medication have helped him and posts on social media about his recovery, hoping it will help someone else going through a tough time.

“Ever since I woke up from surgery on May 1st that’s how I’ve been with my family, with my friends, I’ve never been the type to bottle it up and try to act like it didn’t happen because it did and sharing and expressing about it is what helps to get through it,” he said.

Pescaro won’t be on campus to mark this anniversary but knows he’ll feel a lot of emotions and will spend time reflecting and thinking about Reed Parlier and Riley Howell.

'Remembering how strong our university is'

Three years after tragedy rocked the UNC Charlotte campus, students and staff left messages of hope and promises to honor the victims. Niner nation forever bonded over what happened on April 30, 2019.

“This day is just to make sure that the people I care about are okay,” Liam Caldwell said

The memories of that day are still fresh for so many.

“It was a while ago, but I can also remember it very, very vividly," Jordan Estabrook said. "I don’t think it’s something you can ever forget and in a certain sense, I don’t ever want to forget it."

She was finishing up her semester in Colvard, a building near where the shooting happened. She remembers the fear she felt locked in her classroom and in the days after.

“I struggled after that," she said. "My capstone class was back in that room that I was locked in but for me, it was more about overcoming that fear and overcoming it by remembering how strong our university is."

It’s that strength that’s kept her on campus. She graduated and now works for the University’s communications department, choosing to stay in the community that gave her a new perspective on life.

“There is an acknowledgment that nothing is permanent, nothing is forever so how do we treat the relationships in our lives?" Estabrook asked. "How does that look different knowing that anything can happen?"

Day of Remembrance

UNC Charlotte began its Day of Remembrance on Friday, one day before the anniversary of the shooting. Several events, including a wreath-laying ceremony, happened then.

The wreath was removed at 5:40 p.m. on Saturday and moved inside the Kennedy Building.  

UNC Charlotte additionally has an April 30 Memorial digital exhibit, which features photos, videos, letters and more to highlight the campus and surrounding community's response.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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