Content warning: This article contains details from the UNC Charlotte shooting on April 30 and information about the shooter.
In an arraignment on Sept. 20, the UNC Charlotte shooter pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and one count of discharging a firearm on educational property. In a plea deal with the District Attorney’s office, he evaded a death sentence and received two consecutive sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. As a part of the plea deal, the shooter waived his right to have all evidence of the case retained indefinitely. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell presided over the case.
The charges occurred on April 30, 2019 just before 5:42 p.m. when the shooter burst into an anthropology class in the Kennedy building just as the students had begun to give their final presentations. Only about half of the 96 students in the class were present that day. Dressed in all black with plastic protective goggles and earplugs, the defendant fired 17 shots “indiscriminately.” He was tackled to the ground by Riley Howell, 21. When the sergeant arrived at the scene, he found four men lying on the floor. He asked who had been shot, and the shooter responded that he had been tackled. When the sergeant asked who the shooter was, he responded, “I am.”
Riley Howell and Ellis “Reed” Parlier, 19, who was presumed to have been shot first, were pronounced dead at the scene. The four injured students, Drew Pescaro, 19, of Apex; Sean DeHart, 20, of Apex; Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saudi Arabia; and Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte, were rushed to the hospital for treatment.
One of the prosecuting attorneys said that a full magazine with seventeen rounds was located on the classroom floor and 16 more were found in a backpack that the shooter had been wearing. A second backpack containing gun cleaning supplies and extra earplugs was discovered in the men’s bathroom.
The shooter had transferred to UNC Charlotte from Central Piedmont Community College and began classes at UNC Charlotte in Fall 2018. He withdrew from all of his classes in the Spring 2019 semester, although he had at one point been enrolled in the anthropology class that he targeted.
Both the prosecution and defense testified that the defendant had begun planning the shooting in Aug. 2018. He said he had taken inspiration from a violent YouTube channel that discussed school shootings. He was granted a gun permit online in Oct. 2018 and bought a Model 7 pistol in Dec. 2018. For several months afterwards, he practiced at a local shooting range.
The defendant told detectives that he had taken the light rail from his off-campus apartment to campus that day. He said he arrived at 12:30 p.m. and spent the afternoon walking around campus.
The shooter gave a brief statement expressing his regret for his actions on April 30.
Defense Attorney Michael Kabakoff cited Atkins v. Virginia to argue that the death penalty would be a “cruel and unusual” sentence for someone with “such a severe intellectual disability,” referring to the fact that the defendant is autistic.
“The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst,” he said. “[The defendant] is not. He’s a disabled young man. Violence was not ingrained in his character.”
Several members of the victims’ families read statements for the court. Julie Parlier, Reed’s mother, was the first to speak.
“We will never forgive the defendant,” she said. “If he wanted to kill someone, he should’ve turned the gun on himself. We have nothing but hatred in our hearts for the defendant. Reed was loving and kind.”
The father of Riley’s girlfriend said, “Riley was kind. The person whose life the defendant took so callously would have been the first person to be his friend.”
He also read a statement on behalf of his daughter, who was not in attendance at the trial. “I hope the defendant rots in hell,” she wrote.
According to her father, she had called Riley at 5:32 p.m. that day to tell him she loved him.
Riley’s parents also spoke, saying, “[Riley] believed in helping others. He worked hard and took responsibility for himself. Today we finish what Riley started.”
In a statement emailed out just before 6 p.m, Chancellor Dubois said, “While this news does not bring closure to the tragedy that occurred that day, it does bring a definite end to the criminal proceedings. We will never forget April 30, the lives of Reed and Riley, the injuries sustained by Rami, Sean, Emily, and Drew, and the impact it had on our entire community.”