The family of Riley Howell, the 21-year-old who died after tackling a gunman who opened fire at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals in honor of Howell’s heroism.
A Vietnam War veteran gifted the medals, considered to be two of the military’s highest honors, to the Howell family on Wednesday, according to the Waynesville Police Department.
The veteran, known as Thomas “Stormy” Matteo, received six Purple Heart medals for his action as a Marine in Vietnam. The Waynesville Police presented the medals to Howell’s parents and siblings at the station and Matteo commended the family during a video call.
“We were truly honored to be part of this presentation,” the police department said in a Facebook post.
Last week, the Army also awarded Howell with a posthumous ROTC Medal of Heroism. Howell was an Army ROTC cadet at UNC Charlotte.
Howell was in his junior year when the alleged shooter, former UNC Charlotte student Trystan Terrell, entered his classroom with a gun for an attack. Then, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney, Howell “took the fight to the assailant” and was able to take “the suspect off his feet,” giving police time to apprehend the suspect.
Howell and Ellis Parlier, a 19-year-old student, died during the shooting.
“Unfortunately, [Howell] had to give his life to do so but he saved lives,” Putney said during a press conference days after the shooting.
Lt. Col. Chunka Smith, who heads the university’s ROTC program, told CBS News that he wasn’t surprised of Howell’s decisive and heroic action.
“I would tell you, he stood out,” Smith said of Howell as a ROTC cadet.
Asked whether he felt pride over Howell’s decisive action during the shooting, Smith said: “I do. Absolutely.”
“As a soldier, we understand what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice,” the lieutenant colonel told CBS News.
Riley is survived by his parents, two sisters, a brother and his girlfriend.