Logan King was in an Appalachian State nursing class when some of his fellow nurses told him about the shooting at UNC Charlotte. Not long afterward, King received a couple of text messages — one from his friend, and one from his father — telling King to call them.
One of King’s best friends, Riley Howell, was a student at UNC Charlotte, so he feared the worst.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” King said in a phone interview Saturday morning, four days after the shooting. “I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. But then I talked to my friend, and he told me that he thought Riley had been killed.”
“I remember it not sinking in. I was just kind of stunned,” he added. “But then I called my dad, and he told me what happened. I pretty much came apart at that point.”
That wasn’t the end of the story, however. King’s father proceeded to explain how Howell had acted heroically, tackling the shooter and saving countless lives in the process. That came as no surprise to King, who said that such courageous actions fell right in line with his friend’s personality.
“It still shocks me that something like this happened to someone so close to me,” he said. “But it doesn’t shock me that Riley did what he did. I never doubted that he’d have protected me, his family and anyone else from harm. It’s just who he was as a person.”
King said Howell had been “like a brother to me.” The two met in Sunday school when they were about 4-years old, and over the next 17 years, they spent a lot of time together, whether it be riding around in Howell’s Gator, kayaking, backpacking, mountain biking or simply enjoying one another’s company.
They also played football, soccer and basketball together. One of King’s most vivid memories of Howell on the basketball court speaks to the latter’s gung-ho personality. The incident happened during an intrasquad scrimmage, when King was on one team and Howell was on the other.
“I was going for a lay-up, and he flew straight into my and laid me out against the wall. I couldn’t stand up for awhile after that,” King said. “I think my dad [the team’s coach] ended up giving him an award for being the most “get after it” kind of the player on the team. That’s the kind of person he was.”
King described Howell as having “no brakes...when he went for something, he couldn’t slow down.” That characterization fits right in with how Howell reportedly acted in the heat of the moment last Tuesday, with the lives of his classmates hanging in the balance. Sources described how, after the shooter busted into the room at Kennedy Hall, Howell rushed the assailant, taking him to the ground and immobilizing him until authorities could secure the scene.
“He wasn’t a cookie-cutter type of person,” King said. “He never went the way you’re always supposed to go, the way society tells you you should go. He was his own person, and he wanted to find his own path.”
And even when King and Howell’s paths diverged — Howell transferred to T.C. Roberson in Asheville after his mom got a job there, while King remained at Tuscola — the two remained close. Howell’s family has an apartment in Asheville and a farm in Haywood, and King spent countless hours at both locations.
There was never a dull moment when the pair were together, King said. He recalled that, when the two of them were cutting wood for the Howells’ furnace, they’d often turn it into a competition to see who could cut the most, the fastest. Said King: “He’d usually win, because he was the strongest out of everybody.”
King also remembers going to Howell’s house on the weekends, playing video games and horsing around until the wee hours of the morning.
“I’d be so tired that I couldn’t hold my eyes open, but he’d want to stay up and keep going,” he said. “We were never bored together. He was never boring. He always had some idea cooked up that he wanted to try.”
That was true right up until King’s last interaction with Howell.
During the weekend before the shooting, Howell had texted King about a dirt bike he had recently gotten, and how the two of them “wouldn’t have to cram into the Gator anymore” when they hung out on the farm. They talked about how they were excited to see each other, how they couldn’t wait to spend time together once college let out for the summer.
“I do hope he’s remembered as a hero,” King said. “Because he certainly was one.”