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Hundreds of mourners gathered Sunday for a service with military honors that was held for slain UNC Charlotte student hero Riley Howell.
Friends and relatives remembered the 21-year-old Howell as a generous and goofy “Star Wars”-loving free spirit during the service at the 1,900-seat Stuart Auditorium in Lake Junaluska, NC.
“He was understanding, quiet, thoughtful. He never failed to help me with anything I needed big or small,” said Iris, one of Howell’s younger sisters.
Added his other sister, Juliet: “He was such a free spirit who truly had no fears.”
The former ROTC cadet at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte died tackling the gunman who burst into his classroom and opened fire Tuesday. His bravery saved lives in the horror, which also left another student dead, officials said.
At his memorial, Howell’s siblings said Riley acted heroically throughout his short life.
“That he was there on Tuesday wasn’t just about luck — it was fate,” said Howell’s younger brother, Teddy.
“My hero doesn’t wear a cape, he wears Tevas,” the sibling said, referring to the shoe brand.
Howell’s girlfriend of more than five years, Laura Wesmoreland, remembered their relationship in an emotional speech, addressing her lost loved one directly.
“I knew from [our] first dates on that I would love you, love you, love you, and I was so lucky to experience your love in return,” she said, adding that the pair met in their sophomore year of high school.
“When I first saw you, it was like the sun came out, bright and beaming on the cloudiest of days. You were a free spirit. No one could hold you down. We had to let you go, we had to let you go the path you wanted to go.”
Military honors for Howell began with three shots and a trumpet. A US flag was then folded and presented to next of kin, as is traditional in military funerals.
During the service, Howell’s cousin announced that the family is starting the Riley Howell Foundation to help other victims of mass violence.