Survivor grateful for second chance 5 years after UNC Charlotte shooting

CHARLOTTE — Tuesday marked five years since a deadly mass shooting that took the lives of two students on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

On April 30, 2019, 21-year-old Riley Howell and 19-year-old Reed Parlier were killed when someone opened fire on campus. Howell died after charging at the shooter while trying to protect other students from him.

Four other people were hurt, including student Drew Pescaro.

The gunman pleaded guilty in 2019 and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

>> UNC Charlotte has a virtual memorial wall where you can share a message of reflection. Click here for more.

From the outside, Pescaro’s life now looks picture-perfect. He has his dream job with the Carolina Hurricanes and he’s getting ready to celebrate his third wedding anniversary. But they’re milestones Pescaro never thought he’d reach.

“Realizing how close I was to being on that side of things is just like a very tough thing to realize -- that at 19, my life was almost cut short,” he told Channel 9′s Erika Jackson.

Pescaro spent a month in the hospital after being shot in his back back in 2019.

“I had been like, looking over my shoulder. He comes in and he’s got a gun in his hand. I’m like, that’s not normal,” he said.

Pescaro told Jackson he spent years living with survivor’s guilt. He said the news of shootings at other schools takes him back to that dreadful day.

“It’s almost like a wound that can never fully heal, because every single time it happens again, it’s like the scab gets peeled off,” he said.

While time may not heal all wounds, Pescaro said therapy has helped. He admits it taught him to be even more grateful for milestone moments like his new job and wedding.

“When you were in the hospital, was there a point in time where you thought you would never accomplish those things?” Jackson asked.

“None of it was guaranteed,” Pescaro said. “Everything that’s happened since then has just been like a second chance.”

It’s a second chance he promises to never take for granted.

Drew said he normally travels every April 30 to keep his mind busy. This year, he said he plans to stay home with his family or visit the remembrance memorial on UNC Charlotte’s campus.

(WATCH BELOW: Students reflect one year after UNCC shooting)

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