WLOS - SKYLAND - The voice of Rob Wilcher broke as he spoke over the PA before the start of T.C. Roberson's final regular season soccer game against rival Reynolds.
"The Roberson community has been touched by tragedy today," he said. "Riley Howell lost his life, saving others."
It had been less than 24 hours since Howell died in a April 30 campus shooting at UNC Charlotte, attempting to disarm the gunman — and in the process, saving lives.
Wilcher, like many others in the stands, was still coming to terms with the reality of the news.
Howell and 19-year-old Ellis Parlier of Midland were killed when a shooter opened fire in a classroom building at the UNCC campus. Four others were injured, three of whom were critically wounded.
Campus police disarmed and apprehended the suspect, later identified by police as 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell, a former student, in the room where a handgun was used to carry out the shooting.
"He will be missed and remembered as an individual, who, in the moment of greatest peril, sacrificed for the lives of others," said Wilcher, who had been Howell's varsity soccer coach before he graduated in 2016. "He lived his life in service of others and his light was extinguished way too soon. We join countless communities who have experienced the same violence in mourning one of our sons, one of our brothers, one of our students, one of our players, one of our own."
Rams and Rockets players linked arms at midfield and bowed their heads as Wilcher spoke and in a moment of silence. Tears were shed on both sides. It was a loss felt across rivalry lines.
Roberson coach Josh Martin wiped his eyes as he looked at the American flag being flown at half-mast.
Martin said earlier in the day he had spent the morning "crying his eyes out." He had coached Howell when he played JV soccer for the Rams.
"You can’t really put into words what a good human being he was," Martin said. "There aren’t words to describe how we’re all feeling. This is tragic."
'That's what a hero does'
Rich Larson, who has announced Roberson soccer games for the past 30 years, has fond memories of watching Howell play.
"He was a nice kid. A good player," Larson said. "He gave up his life for someone else. That's what a hero does."
Howell has been heralded as a hero across the nation. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney said his actions "saved lives."
A GoFundMe account to help with Howell's funeral expenses, started this afternoon, has already raised over $4,000.
Wilcher said he wished that he could tell Howell how proud he had made his family, but also how desperately they wished they could have him back.
"I wish I could thank him for saving countless lives," Wilcher said. "We owe him a debt of gratitude for the sacrifice that he has made. We are all proud and better people for knowing him."