Riley Howell and lessons from the UNCC shooting

This is Riley Howell.

Remember the name.

Riley Howell

Don’t forget it.

Riley Howell

Remember the face.


21 years old and he rushed the gunman during the UNCC shooting a few days ago.

Two people were killed. Riley was one of them. Four more injured.

Shortly after he knocked down the shooter, an officer entered the room and apprehended him.

How many more victims would there have been if Riley Howell hadn’t rushed the shooter?

The truth? No one knows. Most likely more, but the sad part about these events is that they are constantly riddled with “what ifs” and imaginary scenarios that we can all spin and pull to our own belief of message.

In my opinion, what matters is that we look at the facts, the best we can, and learn.

Here’s a few things to consider from reading victim/witness statements and interviews.

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Lesson One: You don’t need to completely stop the shooter to save lives, every second counts.

Riley Howell charged the shooter when others ran the other way. Without a doubt this was an important piece. Anytime we can distract or disrupt the attacker and their plan, we buy time. Time when there isn’t shooting or focused shooting. That time saves lives. Even just 3-5 seconds in an event like this is an eternity and can open up so many opportunities that weren’t available without it.

A reasonably active individual can cover 40-80 feet in that time. Of course that’s on a straight away with no obstacles, but even if we low ball it and say you can buy people 20’ of movement, that’s a game changer. 20’ of distance on a shooting range is a HUGE difference in accuracy. The further away I am, the less accurate. These active shooters aren’t taking time to get good breath control and look down the sights, but the greater the deviation of fire, the more likely I am to survive.

Not only does it help get distance away from he attacker but 20’ can help get me to a piece of cover, through a doorway, or closer to the threat to get hands on. The moral of the story is, even distracting or stopping the attacker for mere seconds can save countless lives.

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Lesson Two: Running isn’t always JUST running

When I run our ASR courses, the very first thing we do is work on evasion drills. Not centered around specific skills but around decision making. Forcing them to evaluate different variables when they decide to run. What exits are available, how easy is it to get out of the nearest available exit, who am I with, are people injured, am I stepping over bodies, are doors locked, etc etc…

One of the biggest things we discuss is the fact that the nearest available exit isn’t always the best choice when in a group setting mainly because those exits can quickly become bottle necks. The less exits and the more people, the longer it is going to take to get out of that exit. Not to mention, fifty people stuck trying to get out of one door way creates a crowd. A crowd is a primary target for a shooter. It’s fish in a barrel and that’s not the barrel you want to be in.

Think about it. Thirty people in a class room. One exit out. How long does it take to get all thirty people out?

Now there’s a chair in the path slowing everyone down and tripping them up? How much longer does that take?

5 seconds? 10 seconds? More?

Do you really want to be standing in a group of people for 10 seconds with a shooter in the same room?

It’s so important to practice decision making when it comes to survival, even in running. It is not enough to tell people “Run-Hide-Fight” and not force them to practice it and the variables that entails.

Training matters.

HONEST Training matters.

Don’t kidd yourself… there is no other way.

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Lesson Three: No matter the odds, success and failure are possible

Riley Howell saved lives. He gave his life to do so.

It’s often an issue for people to address this in an honest manner. The reality is rushing the attacker can save lives. It can be your best chance of survival. Take what we discussed above. If there’s a bottle neck at the door, do I have a higher chance of survival standing in the back of a crowd for 5-10s in the view of a shooter or rushing the shooter? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

You might have a 20% chance of survival by running out the exit, a 22% chance of survival by rushing the bad guy, and a 10% chance of survival by diving under a desk. Those odds will completely change and shift based on your proximity tot he exits, proximity to the threat, your physical ability, the attackers goals, the attackers decisions, the decisions and actions of everyone in the room, and so on. It is also important o note that those odds of survival are completely different for every single person in the same exact room at that exact time. The lesson here is, you have no idea what the outcome will be and generally if you’re in a situation where someone is willing to murder you, able to murder you, and you didn’t have much warning, your odds aren’t “promising.”

The reality is that no matter how good your odds are, there’s always a chance you lose. The reverse is true as well. No matter how bad your odds are, there’s still a chance you survive.

That’s the fucked up and beautiful part about life.

A solid and well thought plan can lead to utter failure and a bullshit hail mary can lead to success.

It comes down to what your goals are and playing your odds the best you can. No one knows when the “perfect” time to rush an attacker is. There are tactics that can help, but every scenario is completely different.

The key is to know that getting hands on is a completely effective technique and one everyone should be capable and willing to do. It should also be known that, if possible, running away is the greatest plan for personal survival. The issue comes down to whether you CAN actually run or not.

If it is physically hard to run because people are in your way, exits aren’t readily available, the door is too far away, etc… then I need to understand that fighting has to be a go to.

But, be honest and understand, you may not walk away from that encounter.

In the end you get to make the choice.

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Lesson Four: The motive doesn’t matter

We always obsess over the “why” of an event.

Is there a benefit to the motive? Sure, that said it is mostly for preventative measures of other attacks in the future.

Does it matter in the midst of an attack? Hell no.

Someone is willing to kill you and has the means too, the why doesn’t matter.

We want to know why because we want to make sense of it. We want to believe that we can identify the reason, then fix the reason. We want to continue to believe that there’s a specific and logical reason behind this. Because if there wasn’t, then we would have to admit that evil is just a thing. It is something possible in each and everyone of us. That’s a terrifying thought for most.

We are a “civil” society, how could someone just want to murder a bunch of people because they just wanted to murder a bunch of people.

How could someone do that and just smile as they are handcuffed and walked off.

It’s simple. He’s just evil.

No explanation needed.

Does it make it better if he did it for a religious cause? Or because of a racial issue? Or because he was allegedly “insane”?

No… who gives a fuck. These people are evil. If we were smart, we would immediately execute them and never mention their names. Treat them like the evil they are and just wipe them out. But that’s a whole other discussion for a later and more confrontational day.

Here’s the harsh truth. Some people are just fucked up. Evil exists. And the “why” doesn’t matter in the moment.

And it’s ok to admit this. It’s ok to admit evil exists. Because, whether you admit it or not, it’s true. And you’re less likely to be blindsided by it’s effects, if you come to terms with it.

Do you think Riley Howell cared why the guy was shooting? Do you think the why would have changed his decision?

Look, these events are real. They happen for a myriad of reasons. Being ignorant of this is not bliss.

Learn from the events. Remember the people that actually matter. People like Riley Howell. Go forth and be a good human. Don’t be an asshole. Contribute to society.

That’s how we progress forward.

We remember and we honor people like Riley Howell.

Be good, train hard, stay safe


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