On Tuesday, one 21-year-old heroic Army ROTC cadet who was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte gave his life to save his fellow students when a gunman shot up his classroom on the last day of classes.

As TaskandPurpose reports, Army ROTC cadet Riley Howell tackled and held the gunman after the shooter opened fire. CBS News reported a student in the classroom, Tristan Field, said the gunman sat with the other students for roughly 10 minutes before he began shooting. Field said, “All of a sudden, without warning, no one yelled, no nothing. This gun started ringing out.” Field said as many as 50 students tried to flee the scene, adding, “It was absolute panic. A chair fell in front of the door, so people were tripping over that, like, trying to climb over it. Some people fell down. It was like water through a funnel, but it wasn’t fast enough.”

The New York Times reported that the class, LBST 2213, which dealt with anthropology and philosophy of science, was featuring group presentations; a presentation about the galaxy was underway when the gunman opened fire. One student Miranda Finch, said she heard three loud pops, then saw the gunman. She recalled, “I looked at him and the gun was aimed at my table and at me.”

A friend of Finch’s was grazed on the cheek by a bullet; another boy at Finch’s table had fallen to the floor; a third student at the table was hit. The Times noted, “Ms. Finch didn’t notice Mr. Howell lunge at the gunman, but she said it could have happened while she was ducking behind the table. The next thing she knew, the gunman was lying on the floor.”

Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney told The New York Times, “But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed. Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.” At a news conference Putney called Howell a hero, adding that he “took the fight to the assailant” and “took the assailant off his feet.”

Lt. Col. Chunka Smith, head of UNC Charlotte’s ROTC program, added, “I would tell you, he stood out. As a soldier, we understand what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

CBS News reported, “Howell was from Waynesville, North Carolina, a city in the western part of the state near the junction where the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains meet. A student athlete who ran cross-country and played soccer in high school, Howell also participated in Evironthons — events designed to raise awareness about climate issues.”

Howell’s family issued a statement after the murders calling him a “big muscular guy with a huge heart. He was the kind of person who you knew would take care of you the moment you met him, and he always did. He radiated love and always will.”

Lauren Westmoreland, Howell’s girlfriend for roughly six years, said, “He is my hero. But he’s just my angel now, as well.”

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