Hero student who died saving classmates honoured as Star Wars Jedi
A hero student who died saving classmates in a US mass shooting will be honoured as a Jedi by the production company behind Star Wars.
Riley Howell, who was said to be a huge Star Wars fan, is getting immortalised as a fictional character in the franchise’s “visual dictionary” for the latest Rise of Skywalker film.
The 21-year-old and a fellow student were murdered and four others injured on 30 April when a gunman opened fire at the University of North Carolina.
Howell was credited by police for preventing any further deaths.
“You’re either going to run, hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant,” local police chief Kerr Putney said at the time. “Having no place to run and hide, he did the last.”
Howell’s family were reportedly tipped off by Lucasfilm in May the production company wanted to pay a special tribute to him.
“Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in all of us,” a fan relations team member wrote.
“We hope that you may rejoice in his memory, and we join you in honouring his life and example.
“As a small tribute, our story group has incorporated a reimagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy.
He added: “The Force will be with Riley, and all of you, always.”
Riley’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, told The Charlotte Observer: “I like the way they actually left his last name.
“I think he would really be appreciative of that. Because, you know, they could have just said Ri-Lee, Jedi Ri-Lee, and we’d be guessing the whole time about whether or not that was really (him).
“But they put his last name in there just to really honour him, and that really made me cry when I heard about it.”
The entire family went to see the new movie on opening night. They took his ashes, and left a seat open for him.
“I think he would have liked the way it ended,” Ms Henry-Howell said.
Howell’s long-term girlfriend, Lauren Westmoreland, said “though he wasn’t an artist, he loved to draw the clone trooper helmets all the time, sometimes even on my birthday cards”.
Her father, Kevin Westmoreland, explained Howell “had a very strong sense of good and evil, and how to live life as someone who looked out for others”.
“Seeing him listed as both a Jedi and a historian in Star Wars lore is a perfect way to connect him to this story and the characters he loved,” he added.