Kevin Westmoreland

On April 30, 2019, my daughter and her boyfriend of five and a half years, Riley Howell, were taking their final exams at universities two hours apart. They ended their final phone call with “I love you,” and he entered his classroom at 5:32 p.m. At approximately 5:40 p.m., a shooter entered his classroom and started shooting. The shooter killed one student outright with six shots. He then wounded three other students. Riley moved out of his chair, near a pillar in the room, and then charged the shooter. He sustained eight wounds but was able to knock the shooter off his feet, stunning him. The shooter had a 27-shot magazine in his Glock pistol. The last two rounds fatally wounded Riley, but the force of Riley hitting him stopped him from reloading and killing any of the wounded students or the dozen or so students who were still in the classroom. He sat on the floor with a new magazine in his hand but was unable to reload before a campus police officer handcuffed him and had him taken away. Had the shooter been using a factory 15-round magazine, Riley would almost certainly have been able to get to him and stop him before he could shoot anyone else.

Riley was a young man that was born to be heroic, in ways both small and large, but he should not have had to die in his classroom to prove that. His death has left a hole in our lives and has altered the trajectory of my daughter’s life forever. We must do what we can to bring about common sense change to gun laws before more of our promising young people are killed while just trying to get an education. We formed a foundation in Riley’s name and are working to help victims of gun violence, but we all need to do more.


February 25, 2018, is a date that will always bring pain and strength to my heart. It is almost a year since I was shot in the back. My boyfriend was taking me home, and someone came out from a hidden place, stood behind the car and shot straight towards the car. The bullet went through the back light, back seat, passenger seat and in my back. In my body, the bullet hit my pericardium, diaphragm, spleen and stomach. It also collapsed my left lung. I went through surgery, hospital stay, hospital visits and recovery. I still go through trauma, anxiety, depression and physical pain. I also have the shattered bullet in my body. I was only 19. I just turned 20 last month, and I know it is a long road to overcome all of this, but God is my strength.

Now, I try to get involved in advocating for gun safety with Everytown. I joined my local Moms and hoping to start Students Demand Action in my school. I also have amazing love and support from my mom, family, boyfriend, friends and community.

It is impossible to share my entire story, but I never should have been in critical condition because of a bullet. My life almost ended at 19. Now, I do what I do to help those who are no longer here. That could have been me, and I am not taking my second chance for granted. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for God’s love, giving me strength to fight for those of us who have been affected. I struggle every day with flashbacks and trauma, but I know I’ll be okay. I remember reading an article where someone said that after getting shot, they felt half alive and half dead. That stuck with me because the young woman I was at 19 passed away that night. I am nothing like I was before. Sometimes I fight hard to try to go back to how I was. I just can’t. That is when I feel like I’m half dead. I’m half alive when I spread awareness, go to marches, go to Moms’ meetings and get involved. I’m alive and I’m so grateful. I accept anything that comes my way because I know that it is not only my fight; it’s all of ours.

I pray for the healing of those who have been affected by gun violence. We are strong and in this together. I hope you feel my love, condolences and sympathy.

I pray for the healing of the man who shot directly at me. I wish my boyfriend’s car was not the one you confused that night. I just thank you anyway because I’d rather it be me than anyone else, and thank you for making me the strongest woman I would have never thought I would be.

I am so grateful to be alive.