On April 30, Riley Howell charged a gunman in a classroom at University of North Carolina/Charlotte. He was shot point blank. His action undoubtedly saved lives. The toll was two deaths and four injured.
The graduation picture released by Howell’s family is heartbreaking. Howell radiates happy energy. He is described as a fearless athlete who loved a challenge.
Why did he charge the shooter? Did he expect to die? We won’t ever know.
In my reading, I encountered someone who might offer insight. Frank Delaney’s book Simple Courage – A True Story of Peril on the Sea describes an incident that happened in 1951 in the north Atlantic. Delaney recounts that when Captain Kurt Carlsen had safely evacuated all crew and passengers off his disabled bulk cargo ship Flying Enterprise, a young sailor/radio operator jumped from a tug boat to the foundering ship. Why? The risk was extreme. He didn’t know Carlsen. Possibly Carlsen would have survived without him. Together, for two weeks, they struggled to salvage the crippled ship, finally leaving it just before it sank.
I wonder what we could learn, if it was possible to speak to that radio operator. (Not having the book in my hand, I don’t know what he said, if anything.) If he is living, he would be at least 90 years old. My review of Simple Courage can be found in this blog dated April 22, 2014. (Interestingly, Amazon’s web site includes a review of Simple Courage by Senator John McCain, who found the book “absorbing, thrilling and inspirational…”)
Howell’s loved ones can frame this however they choose, remember him as a hero or regret his split second decision or both. Their lives will never be the same. My heart aches for them.
Before I could even post this, another tragic death has occurred, of a high school student in Colorado, in similar circumstances.