UNC Charlotte shooting hero honored with new Star Wars character


(CBS NEWS) – A man who was killed in April while helping to stop a shooter at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte was honored by Lucasfilm with a Star Wars character named after him. Ri-Lee Howell, named for the late Riley Howell, is a Jedi Master and historian of the Jedi Order, according to the character’s new bio on Wookiepedia, the Star Wars-centric wiki.

The character appears in the book “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — The Visual Dictionary.” The book was released alongside “The Rise of Skywalker,” the latest edition in the Star Wars film franchise.

Howell’s girlfriend on Monday posted an emotional video on TikTok sharing the news. She said the two had been together for six years and planned to spend the rest of their lives together. 

“But on April 30, 2019, Riley sacrificed his life tackling a shooter that decided to fire on his classroom, saving all but one other student,” she wrote in one of the video’s captions. 

“Riley is the biggest fan of Star Wars I know, ever since he was little!!!!!” the video continues while displaying pictures of a young Howell playing with various Star Wars toys, such as a lightsaber. The video then shows a picture of the letter Howell’s family received from Lucasfilm telling them that a character had been named after the late hero. Howell’s girlfriend said they thought it was “too good to be true” until they finally saw Ri-Lee’s entry in the Star Wars wiki.

“As a small tribute, our Story Group has incorporated a re-imagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy,” the letter from Lucasfilm reads. 

The family received the letter not long after Howell’s death, but couldn’t share the news until the book his namesake appears in was published. Lucasfilm was alerted to Howell’s fandom thanks to a complete stranger in Florida, who took it upon himself to write to the studio after learning about Howell’s story.

“I’m sure Riley would be super excited,” a family member of Howell’s told CBS affiliate WBTV

“This is beyond what we could have asked for,” another family member said.

Howell, 21, was an ROTC participant and has been hailed a hero for trying to stop Trystan Terrell, the 22-year-old who opened fire in a UNC-Charlotte classroom on April 30. 

“He took the fight to the assailant,” Charlotte-Mecklenberg police chief Kerr Putney said after the shooting. “He took the assailant off his feet. And then the heroes that we have here were able to apprehend him.” 

“Unfortunately he gave his life in the process, but his sacrifice saved lives,” Putney said. 

Howell was buried with military honors and was also honored at UNC-Charlotte’s commencement ceremony in May.

One other person, 19-year-old Ellis Parlier, was killed in the shooting. Drew Pescaro, 19; Sean Dehart, 20; Emily Houpt, 23; and Rami Alramadhan, 20; were injured in the attack.

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