CHARLOTTE – Chancellor Philip Dubois describes April 30 as the darkest day in UNC Charlotte history following a shooting that killed two students and injured four others on the last day of spring classes.
Students packed Halton Arena the next day for a vigil to remember the victims and begin healing.
“It was the absolutely the most devastating incident we could ever imagine at UNC Charlotte, where we are a very close-knit family,” said Campus Police Chief Jeffrey Baker, noting he feels like the de facto father. “It is tough because what I want to do every day and our officers really try their very hardest to do is to provide safety and security to our entire community on this 1,000 acres. When we’re faced with something like this, I can’t tell you the feelings, the sorrow.”
Baker praised the actions of his officers, including Sgt. Rick Gundacker and Lt. Sarah Smyre, who were among the first to arrive at the scene.
“They acted exactly as trained,” Baker said. “We don’t sit. We don’t wait. We go.”
The shooter took the lives of Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville, and Ellis Parlier, 19, of Midland.
Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, credits Howell for trying to stop the shooter.
“He took the fight to the assailant,” Putney said of Riley. “He unfortunately had to give his life to do so but he saved lives. He took the assailant off his feet and the heroes we have here were able to apprehend further.”
Howell transferred to UNCC from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College to major in environmental studies.
Parlier enrolled after graduating in 2017 from the Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Monroe. The computer science major tutored middle school students in computer programming, according to Dubois in a letter to the campus community.
Four others were injured: Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saudi Arabia; Sean Dehart, 20, of Apex; Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte; and Drew Pescaro, 19, of Apex. Houpt is expected to participate in commencement exercises, according to Dubois.
Police arrested Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, and charged him with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, as well as possessing and discharging a firearm on educational property.
CMPD has taken over the investigation. Police have released few details about what happened, in hopes of presenting a solid case to the district attorney.
“It’s going to take us time to really figure out all that happened and more important the why,” Putney told reporters May 1. “Unfortunately, this is an incident that really strikes a chord with us all because we can’t really discern the why just yet. It really appears there was no specific reason. The randomness is what’s most concerning.”
The suspect had a legally purchased handgun. Putney said there was quite a bit of ammo, but he didn’t get into specifics.
UNCC has given the faculty the flexibility to decide how to deal with final exams. It’s also giving students who intend to walk the opportunity to do so, opting to worry about finishing their exams or certifying their degrees later.
“I don’t believe you can stop a determined assailant and still have an open campus,” Dubois told reporters when asked about the university’s preparedness. “We have obviously chosen to have an open campus. It’s a terrible tragedy but I think through the combined work of first-responders and Riley, we have avoided a much greater loss of life. We are quite thankful for that.”