CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The man charged with killing two University of North Carolina at Charlotte students and wounding four others in their classroom in April pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of first-degree murder.
Trystan Andrew Terrell, 23, also pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted murder and discharge of a firearm on educational property. State prosecutors accepted Terrell's plea during a hearing that was previously scheduled to decide whether the gunman could face the death penalty for the killings.
The shooting at UNCC happened on April 30.
Terrell admitted from the beginning that he went to the Kennedy Building armed to kill that day. He recounted the shooting in detail to detectives hours later.
Terrell was sentenced to two life sentences without parole.
Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville, and Ellis Reed Parlier, 19, of Midland, died after each was shot multiple times, their autopsies said.
Those victims' mothers spoke about the pain they have been living with.
"Your honor, the defendant took our son," Reed Parlier's mother, Julie Parlier, said after the plea deal.
"We will never forgive him (Terrell) for his actions," she added. "If the defendant wanted to kill someone, he should have turned the gun on himself. May you rot in hell and suffer torture."
"Today, we finish what Riley started," Riley Howell's mother, Natalie Howell, said.
Samantha Coop graduated from the university since the tragedy.
"It was really traumatizing," Coop said. "I thought it was my obligation to see it through to the end with him."
She vividly remembers April 30.
"I was getting phone calls and text messages from my friends that were scared," Coop said. "My parents and family out of town were calling and asking me if I was OK."
Terrell apologized to the victims' families inside the courtroom.
"I am so sorry to everybody," Terrell said. "I really messed up. If I could go back in time and even to the very second to where I entered that classroom, I would do that. I am so sorry. I made a mistake."
Terrell's attorneys spoke about how the suspect has been living with autism and that he was isolated and unable to socialize.
They said he panicked, and the shooting was a cry for help.
Statement from Phillip L. Dubois, UNC Charlotte chancellor:
"Today's news of the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's office reaching a plea agreement resulting in two life sentences for the individual responsible for the April 30 shooting on UNC Charlotte's campus allows our community to continue healing and brings a definite end to the criminal proceedings.
"We will never forget this tragic event and remain focused on honoring the victims and their families. The Niner Nation Remembrance Commission continues to solicit input from the community on ways to thoughtfully and compassionately remember and memorialize the lives that were lost."
Spencer Merriweather III, Mecklenburg County district attorney, said in a news conference after the hearing that he thought the decision to accept the plea deal was the right call because it saves families the anguish of enduring a death penalty trial.
"Today brings justice to the man who brought unspeakable harm to the victims, survivors and their families," Merriweather said.
However, at least one of the victims objected to the plea agreement, which effectively allows Terrell to escape the death penalty.
It's a deal that has caught some by surprise.
"I'm surprised that it's going this quickly," said Rob Corbett, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.
Corbett said earlier in the week that if Terrell went to trial, the case could drag on for two years or more and require victims and their families to testify, with no guarantees the outcome would be any different.
UNC CHARLOTTE TRAGEDY COVERAGE:
- NC high schools sell bracelets to raise money for 'Riley Howell Foundation'
- 'My superhero doesn't wear a cape': Riley Howell's loved ones say final goodbye
- Riley Howell's family reflects on impact UNCC student had on others
- Hundreds line streets as heroic UNCC students's body escorted home
- 'I want that to be his legacy': Heroic UNCC student tackled gunman
- UNCC alum, NFL player Larry Ogunjobi finds new hero in Riley Howell
- Slain UNCC student first citizen to receive CMPD Medal of Valor
- Classroom where gunman opened fire at UNCC will not be used next school year
- UNCC shooting survivor returns home from hospital
- Second student lauded for lifesaving actions during UNCC shooting
"I understand it's a hard call to make from the prosecutor's office but probably the right outcome," Corbett said.
At UNCC, the Kennedy Building where the shooting happened is still closed to everyone but faculty and staff, and no one has forgotten the shock that followed the shooting.
(Terrell in court on Sept. 19, 2019)
"My friends and I actually saw the cops pull in to behind the library," student Maryam Thomas said.
Thomas is a junior now. She said the plea deal may help students and the school move on with the process of healing.
"I think justice needs to be served for everyone here on campus, for all the staff, for the victims and the victims' families. I think it's time, and I'm glad that they're expediting how long this is taking, because justice needs to be served," Thomas said.
We're told that prosecutors had discussed their decision with the surviving victims and the families of the two students who were killed.
One of the survivors of the shooting, Drew Pescaro, posted a series of tweets Wednesday night reacting to the news of a plea.
He expressed frustration saying in part, "Life in prison, and he got it by committing a school shooting. His plan to get life in prison worked, and he got everything he wanted out of the situation."
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