WAYNESVILLE, N.C. — Family, friends, and members of the community said their final goodbyes Sunday to the University of North Carolina Charlotte shooting hero, Riley Howell.
Howell was shot after he stepped up to save others when a gunman began firing at students on UNCC's campus last week.
Police said there's no doubt his selfless sacrifice saved lives.
Howell's funeral was held as a public memorial service in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Hundreds gathered to pay their final respects to Howell.
Several of Riley's family and friends including his siblings, his girlfriend and "soulmate" Lauren Westmoreland, and her family stood up to tell their stories of Howell.
Lauren Westmoreland tearfully asked to speak directly to Howell, but spoke about a number of the dates they shared together. She said he made her feel like the only girl in the world and she loved being loved by him.
"When I first saw you, it was like the sun came out, bright and beaming on the cloudiest of days," Lauren Westmoreland said. "From now on, when the sun shines warm and gently on my face, I will know that it's you holding me in spirit."
Howell's siblings, Teddy, Iris, and Juliet, each shared their own memories of him, but they all described him as a loving and protective brother.
"To quote one of Riley's childhood heroes, Obi-Wan Kenobi, 'In my experience, there's no such thing as luck," Riley's brother Teddy Howell said. "And Riley stood by that. That he was there on Tuesday wasn't just bad luck, it was fate. And, my superhero doesn't wear a cape, he wears Tevas."
"I'm really thankful to have had him in my life as long as I did and I will never forget what a unique, funny, and loving big brother Riley was," Howell's sister Juliet said.
The father of Riley's girlfriend Kevin Westmoreland said Riley learned sign language at a young age in order to talk with his deaf uncle.
At the memorial service, he led the crowd in signing "I love you" to Riley.
"I want you all to do this with me. All of you," Westmoreland said. "Now, let's tell Riley we love him."
Riley was an ROTC cadet and received full military honors including three shots, a single trumpet line, and the flag was presented to Riley's parents.
Loved ones and community members also wrapped around the funeral home Saturday in his hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina for his visitation.
People said it's the best way for them to honor his memory and support his family.
"For something like this to happen, but we know that we've seen on the TV all the time. But, you never think about it coming to our community and it's very sad," a friend of Riley's grandmother Donna Parton said.
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