Feelings of fear and anger ran high among University of North Carolina, Charlotte students a day after a gunman shot and killed two students and injured four others.
On Wednesday evening, students organized a candlelight vigil in the Barnhardt Student Activity Center to unite and support the Charlotte community.
“The event that occurred on our campus yesterday was nothing but a horrific tragedy,” Kristine Slade, a senior at UNC Charlotte, said during the vigil. “However, have strength in knowing that as a community we will proceed and we will get through this event.”
For freshman Gabi Hitchcock, witnessing the incident was terrifying as a student.
“Everyone’s hearts are hurting for these individuals, those who were injured and those whose lives were taken,” Hitchcock told WLOS.
As students wrapped up their final classes of the spring semester on Tuesday evening, ex-student Trystan Terrell stormed into an anthropology classroom in the Kennedy building, home to UNCC’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and started shooting. Terrell killed two students, Ellis Parlier and Riley Howell, The Charlotte Observer reported.
According to Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, the number of fatalities could have been higher if Howell, a 21-year-old environmental studies major, had not pinned the gunman to the ground.
“But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Putney said in a news conference. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.”
Howell’s family described him as a hero, a strong athlete and a good friend.
“He was everyone’s protector, always standing up for what he believed in and lending a strong back to those in need,” the family said in a statement.
Terrell, who trained himself at a shooting range, is facing various charges including two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, and four counts of assault with a deadly weapon. In his confession to the police, Terrell said he had been planning the attack for months and cited the 2012 Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting as inspiration, an article published in New York Post reported.
Terrell was caught by police with at least 10 magazines for his pistol. The police are currently investigating the main motive behind targeting the UNC Charlotte students.
“Unfortunately, this is an incident that really strikes a chord with us all. We can’t really discern why just yet. It really appears that there was no specific person,” Putney said. “And the randomness is what’s more concerning.”
The university’s official crowdfunding website, Niner Nation Unites, has since started an initiative to support the victims and the UNC Charlotte community. Faculty members also approved Degrees in Memoriam for both Parlier and Howell.
“Even in the midst of UNC Charlotte’s darkest day, our greatest strength–our ability to unify with one heart and a common purpose–shines clearly through,” Chancellor Philip L. Dubois, who visited injured students and their families on Wednesday, said in a statement. “For all of us, they were fellow members of Niner Nation, and we will learn and forever remember their names and their legacy.”