'His sacrifice saved lives': Police say UNCC shooting victim fought gunman


What we know:

  • Two people were killed and four others injured after a gunman opened fire in a classroom at UNCC Tuesday
  • The shooter was taken into custody after he was rushed by one of the victims who was fatally shot and officers disarmed him
  • Police arrested and charged 22-year-old Trystan Terrell with 2 counts of murder and 4 counts of attempted murder
  • Terrell was a UNCC student and will make his first court appearance on Thursday
  • Campus lockdown has been lifted, though the Kennedy building remains closed and is an active crime scene
  • Channel 9 has learned the names of all those killed and injured 

CHARLOTTE -- A man armed with a pistol opened fire on students at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte during the last day of classes Tuesday, killing two people and wounding four, police said.

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Police sources have confirmed the victims who did not survive the shooting were Ellis "Reed" Parlier, 19, and Riley Howell, 21.

In a news conference Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney described Howell's actions inside the Kennedy building as heroic.

"You're either going to run or hide and shield or you're going to take the fight to the assailant. Having no place to run and hide, he did the last. But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed. Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process," Putney said. "His sacrifice saved lives."

In a statement to Channel 9, Howell's family said, "He always was able to put others before himself and never hestitated to help anyone who needed it. He was friends with anyone and everyone -- a big, muscular guy with a huge heart."

The four injured students were identified by UNCC Chancellor Philip L. Dubois as Drew Pescaro, 19, Sean Dehart, 20, Emily Houpt, 23, and Rami Alramadhan, 20. Officials said three of the victims are still in the hospital.

Dubois visited the hospital Wednesday to meet with the families.

Waleed Aldhafeeri, president of the Saudi Students Organization at UNCC, told Channel 9 that Alramadan was shot in the stomach and right hand. Aldhafeeri said Alramadan is in good condition and expected to be released from the hospital later Wednesday or Thursday. His family is on the way to Charlotte from Saudi Arabia.

Officers who had gathered ahead of a campus concert raced over and disarmed the suspect.

>> We have continuous team coverage of the shooting on the campus of UNCC. WATCH Eyewitness News and return to this story for updates.

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The shooting prompted a lockdown at UNCC and caused widespread panic across campus as students scrambled to take shelter.

“Run, Hide, Fight. Secure yourself, immediately,” officials at UNCC tweeted.

"Just loud bangs. A couple loud bangs and then we just saw everyone run out of the building, like nervous, like a scared run like they were looking behind," said Antonio Rodriguez, 24, who was visiting campus for his friend's art show.

Campus Police Chief Jeff Baker said authorities received a call around 5:40 p.m. that a suspect armed with a pistol had shot several students in the Kennedy building on South Library Lane. He said officers assembling nearby for a concert rushed to the classroom building and arrested the gunman in the room where the shooting took place.

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"Our officers' actions definitely saved lives," Baker said at a news conference.

He said two people were killed, and three remained in critical condition late Tuesday. He said a fourth person's injuries were less serious.

Police said paramedics took three of the victims to the hospital while a UNCC police sergeant rushed the fourth victim to a local hospital. The two victims who did not survive were pronounced dead at the scene.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department identified the suspect as Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22. They said he's in custody and they were not looking for any other suspects.

<p>Trystan Terrell</p>

Trystan Terrell

(Trystan Terrell)

Terrell has been charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of a firearm on educational property and discharging a firearm on educational property.

He will appear before a judge on Thursday.

Sources told Channel 9 that the suspect was a former UNCC student.

A source said Terrell took the light rail from uptown Charlotte to campus and was armed with a handgun and multiple magazines. Police said the gun was bought legally.

Sources told Channel 9 the shooting appears to be random and Terrell had been planning the attack for months.

Monifa Drayton, an adjunct professor, was walking onto campus when she heard the shots. She said she directed students fleeing the scene to take cover inside a parking deck.

"I heard one final gunshot and I saw all the children running toward me," she said. "We started to get all the children pulled into the second floor of the parking deck and the rationale was if we're in the parking deck and there's a shooter and we don't know where he is, he won't have a clear shot."

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She added: "My thought was, I've lived my life, I've had a really good life, so, these students deserve the same. And so, whatever I could do to help any child to safety, that's what I was going to do."

The campus was locked down for hours. The university tweeted around 11 p.m. that all occupants on campus could depart. That lockdown was lifted early Wednesday, though the Kennedy building remained closed as police process the scene.

The university will be in "Condition 2" suspended operations until midnight, and all scheduled activities are canceled. The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) opened at 8 a.m. to serve students and the Family Assistance Center also opened at 8 a.m. in the Barnhardt Student Activity Center to provide specialized support services to victims and their families.

Students held a prayer walk on campus midday on Wednesday.

Channel 9 was there as Terrell was brought to jail in handcuffs. So far, no details have been released about a possible motive for the shooting, although, Putney said, "The randomness is what's so concerning."

(WATCH BELOW: Video of the suspected shooter being taken into CMPD headquarters)

The suspect's grandfather Paul Rold of Arlington, Texas, said that Terrell and his father moved to Charlotte from the Dallas area about two years ago after his mother died, according to the Associated Press.

Terrell taught himself French and Portuguese with the help of a language learning program his grandfather bought him and was attending UNC-Charlotte, Rold said. But Terrell never showed any interest in guns or other weapons and the news he may have been involved in a mass shooting was stunning, said Rold, who had not heard about the Charlotte attack before being contacted by an Associated Press reporter.

"You're describing someone foreign to me," Rold said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. "This is not in his DNA."

Only Channel 9 was there as investigators swarmed an apartment complex in the NoDa neighborhood of Charlotte Tuesday evening. Sources told Eyewitness News that Terrell and his father live there.

CMPD's bomb squad made sure there were no explosives before investigators went inside and gathered evidence that could help them understand why Terrell may have opened fire.

Shortly after UNC Charlotte issued a campus lockdown, aerial shots from Chopper 9 Skyzoom showed police officers running toward a building, while another view showed students running on a campus sidewalk.

CMPD later said that the campus had been secured and that officers were going through buildings to let people who were hiding know that it was safe to come out.

The university has more than 26,500 students and 3,000 faculty and staff. The campus is northeast of uptown and is surrounded by residential areas.

"We are in shock to learn of an active shooter situation on the campus of UNC Charlotte," said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. "My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives, those injured, the entire UNCC community and the courageous first responders who sprang into action to help others."

Below is a list of agencies that responded:

  • UNC Police
  • Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Homicide Prosecution Team
  • Victim Services
  • K-9
  • Aviation Unit
  • Real Time Crime Center
  • SWAT
  • Charlotte Fire Department
  • Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Department
  • North Carolina State Highway Patrol
  • Cabarrus County Sheriff's Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigations
  • State Bureau of Investigations
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Alcohol Beverage Control Officers
  • Operations Command

Spenser Gray, a junior, said she was watching another student's presentation in a nearby campus building when the alert about the shooting popped up on everyone's computer screens.

She said she panicked.

"We had no idea where he was ... so we were just expecting them at any moment coming into the classroom," she said.

Susan Harden, a UNCC professor and Mecklenburg County Commissioner, was at home when she heard of the shooting. She went to a staging area, she said, to provide support.

Harden said she has taught inside the Kennedy building, where the shootings occurred.

"It breaks my heart. We're torn up about what's happened," Harden said. "Students should be able to learn in peace and in safety and professors ought to be able to do their jobs in safety."

UNCC said all final exams have been canceled through Sunday. Officials tweeted that the student union has been cleared and can serve as a meeting place for students and staff.

Gov. Cooper arrives at UNCC to offer support

Gov. Roy Cooper came to Charlotte Tuesday to be with the UNCC community. He said at a briefing late Tuesday that a "hard look" was needed into how the shooting happened and how to keep guns off campus and out of schools.

(WATCH BELOW: Gov. Roy Cooper speaks on campus of UNCC)

"This is a tragic day at this great university, the city of Charlotte and North Carolina here on the last day of class, just a few days to graduation. But I know the people this community and they will be here for each other. We mourn the loss of life, we pray for those who are being treated at the hospital now," he said.

"A student should not have to fear for his or her life when they are on our campuses," the Democrat said. "Parents should not have to worry about their students when they send them off to school. And I know that this violence has to stop. ... In the coming days we will take a hard look at all of this to see what we need to do going forward."

"We know that for many people here this will be the worst day of their lives. So we want to be here for them."

The governor ordered North Carolina flags lowered to half-staff in honor of the shooting victims.

(WATCH BELOW: Officials brief media following deadly shooting at UNCC)

UNCC Chancellor Philip L. Dubois released the following statement:

This is the saddest day in UNC Charlotte’s history. Earlier this evening, the unthinkable happened on our campus. At approximately 5:40 PM, an individual opened fire in a UNC Charlotte classroom, cutting short the lives of two members of our community and seriously injuring four others.

Families of the deceased victims are being notified, and university staff are with those who are injured. The entire UNC Charlotte community shares the shock and grief of this senseless, devastating act. This was an attack on all of Niner Nation.

I am proud of and grateful for the efforts of UNC Charlotte Police and Public Safety, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and other emergency officials. The suspected shooter is in custody and lives were saved thanks to their rapid response. Their work on campus will continue over the next several hours. Students and staff on campus should follow the instructions of law enforcement officials and the instructions issued in NinerAlerts. Everyone else should remain off campus until an all-clear message is issued.

The days ahead will be some of the most challenging we have ever encountered. All I can say for certain is that we will get through them together. There is still much that we don’t know, and we will share information with you as soon as it is available. Among those unknowns is how we will navigate the remainder of the semester, including the final examination schedule and graduation. Examinations will be canceled through Sunday while we formulate a plan for the following week.

Counseling and Psychological Services is currently providing counseling services to students who were on campus during the event. We intend to make counseling and spiritual support services available to the entire campus community beginning tomorrow morning. Faculty and staff who need support overnight should contact the Employee Assistance Program at 1- 877-603-8259. Additional details regarding those services and other resources will follow in the coming hours.

Baker expressed sadness for the community and said the actions of his officers saved lives.

"We had the most tragic situation that can occur on a campus at UNC Charlotte this evening," Baker told Channel 9. "Our dispatch received a call that a suspect was armed with a pistol and had shot several students. We responded we were able to get into the building quick enough to where we actually took custody of the suspect. He was disarmed and he was taken into custody. At the same time, simultaneously, we secured the entire campus. We were able to lock it down through a system that utilizes simply pressing one button and locking down the entire campus."

Channel 9 has been able to identify one of the victims who survived the shooting.

Drew Pescaro's fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega, shared a photo of him. His cousin said that Pescaro underwent successful surgery, but has a long road to recovery.

The FBI was called to help with the investigation.

"The FBI is on scene and assisting the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and other law enforcement partners at UNC-Charlotte in the aftermath of an on-campus shooting. The FBI is prepared to provide any resource needed as the investigation continues to determine exactly what led to this tragic loss of life in our community," said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Charlotte.

Witnessing tragedy

Student Tristan Field, who was in the classroom when the shooting happened, told ABC News the class was listening to group presentations when the gunfire erupted.

He was startled and looked in the direction of the gunshots when he heard people screaming and saw them running toward the door on his side of the room. He quickly realized it was not a false alarm, left his stuff behind and ran to the nearest exit.

"It started out as a good day," said Field, who was in the classroom when the shooting broke out. "It was the last day of class, was going to a concert, and now someone got shot, a bunch of people got shot. I don't know how to feel. I'm happy to be alive, but I'm sad for other people."

He described the heartbreaking screams coming from the room as he ran for his life.

“It sounded like he might have been random shooting,” Fields said. “He was in the offices outside of class. I really wasn't looking that way, I was trying to run out the other way, but I heard some normal screams and then I heard some terrible screams that I don't ever want to hear again.”

"The first thing that went to my head was, 'Yeah this is actually happening, but just don't sit there, like get up and go,'" said student Jordan Pearce, who was just outside the classroom when the shooting began. "So I grabbed a girl and we just went straight for the bathroom and called our parents after that."

<p>Courtesy: Jordan Pearce (Twitter)</p>

Courtesy: Jordan Pearce (Twitter)

(Credit: Jordan Pearce/Twitter)

People were reuniting for hours at a shopping center parking lot near campus and many students were on their phones trying to get in contact with family and friends.

Parents drove hours to reunite with their children who witnessed the attack, making sure they were OK.

As thankful as those parents were, they were also grieving for the families who were not as fortunate and aren’t able to hug their loved ones.

Vigil planned Wednesday night

UNCC students, alumni, faculty and the Charlotte community will come together Wednesday night to remember the victims. A candlelight vigil will be held at the Star Quad at 6 p.m.

Everyone who attends is asked to wear clothes showing their UNCC pride.

There were many other messages of support coming in from across the Carolinas.

The Carolina Panthers tweeted: “We are mourning with all impacted by the tragedy at UNC Charlotte. 49ers family - we are with you and support you.”

The Hornets tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the UNC Charlotte community. #CharlotteStrong #NinerNation."

The Charlotte Knights will pay tribute to the victims during their game at 11 a.m. Wednesday, saying the team will wear Charlotte 49ers ballcaps. A moment of silence will be held in the third inning.

The Charlotte Checkers also showed their support, tweeting: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to UNCC and all those affected in our community."

Former North Carolina Senator Malcolm Graham is no stranger to tragedy. He lost his sister in the Emanuel AME church massacre in Charleston nearly four years ago.

He's mourning the lives lost at UNC Charlotte and said something has to be done.

“My heart just bled when I heard the news about the shooting on campus,” he told Channel 9. “Obviously, it’s personal to me -- my sister died in a mass shooting and I just wanted to come and lend some support to the university family.”

In response to the deadly shooting, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church will offer a special service to pray for healing and peace at 4:30 p.m. The Catholic parish of 2,300 families is across NC 49 from the UNCC campus and serves the university’s student population through the Diocese of Charlotte’s Catholic Campus Ministry.

The church announced it will "donate more than 1,700 candles for the campus vigil, to be lighted in memory of Ellis Parlier and Riley Howell and in honor of the four other students who were wounded."

Father Patrick Winslow will lead the special prayer service. He will also offer a message during the regularly scheduled 12:15 p.m. Mass on Wednesday. People of all faiths are welcome to attend either or both prayer opportunities.

“When violence and hatred erupts around us, we are compelled to join hands and pray for peace,” Father Winslow said. “Our community is hurting, and it is only through love and reconciliation that the Light of the Gospel can dispel darkness and lead to healing.”

Channel 9 will have continuous team coverage of the shooting on the campus of UNCC. Watch Eyewitness News throughout the day and return to this story for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.