WAYNESVILLE, N.C. — A memorial service was held Sunday for Riley Howell, a victim of the UNC Charlotte shooting.
Riley gave his life and saved countless others when he attempted to physically confront and stop the shooter on April 30, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney previously said.
The shooter was taken into custody and faces a dozen charges, including two counts of murder.
Friends, family and loved ones gathered in his hometown to pay respect to Riley. Riley Howell loved the lake. That’s where the people who loved him said goodbye; friends and family painted a vivid picture of the life Riley lived and the lives he touched.
Among the speakers, Riley's brother, Miles Edward "Teddy" Howell, remembered times spent playing together.
"My superhero doesn't wear a cape he wears Tevas," Teddy said of Riley.
Lauren Westmoreland, Riley's girlfriend of six years, spoke at the service as well, addressing him instead of the crowd. Before she spoke, both of her parents, as well as her brother, touched on their relationships with Riley.
Lauren's dad said Riley was exactly the kind of person they would've wanted their daughter to fall in love with. He told a story he had been told about when Riley wasn't even 3 years old. He said Riley learned sign language to communicate with his deaf uncle. He asked those gathered to all hold up the sign for "I love you."
Her mom said she believed Riley was always going to be a part of their lives.
“I’m standing here, crushed by the loss of these two boys, Reed Parlier, and our Riley Howell," Amy Westmoreland, Lauren's mom, said.
“I want him to always be here, right now, in our lives," Amy said. "My heart is torn in two for my daughter, for his family, for our family.”
Lauren described first meeting Riley, many years ago.
“When I first saw you, it was like the sun came out," Lauren said. "Bright and beaming on the cloudiest of days. From now on, when the sun shines warmly and gently on my face, I will know that it’s you, holding me in spirit.”
Lauren said she loves him endlessly, fiercely and without pause.
“I would love you, love you and love you," Lauren said. "I was so incredibly lucky to experience your love in return. Your unconditional, unwavering love."
Reverend Dr. Robert M. Blackburn, who described what it was like baptizing Riley all those years ago, said this is not the end for him.
“Final word, for Riley, will not be the word of [the] grave, or ground, or dust to dust," Reverend Blackburn said. "Final word will be God's word, word of love, life, eternal."
Riley will be buried with full military honors. At the service, it was also announced that a foundation is being made in his name that will help support families impacted by senseless acts, including Reed Parlier's family.
Police officers from Charlotte’s University Division came to pay their respects to the student who helped stop the gunman.
One of Riley's closest friends thanked Riley for all the memories they had made together. He said knowing Riley was one of the greatest pleasures of his life.
“Thank you for being the big brother I never had," he said. "Thank you for being my hero before you were everyone’s.”
MORE UNCC SHOOTING COVERAGE:
- Friends, family remember UNCC victim Ellis 'Reed' Parlier as funny, bright
- They ran, hid, and fought. Now survivors of the UNC Charlotte shooting remember those lost and start to heal.
- 'This is where it starts' | Group demands change from gun violence in Charlotte
- 'He is out of surgery and stable' | UNCC shooting victim was a sports writer for Niner Times
- 'I am absolutely heartbroken' | Professor writes blog on UNC Charlotte shooting