Commentary: Shooting At UNCC

Hitting Close to Home

Given 04-May-19; 8 minutes

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Richard Ritenbaugh reflects on the April 30, 2019 shooting at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte campus. Like the Synagogue shooting in California a few days earlier, a brave hero, Riley Howell, an ROTC student, saved the lives of his fellow students, giving up his own as he tackled the deranged UNCC dropout, Trystan Terrell. Thus far, no motive has emerged. Perhaps Terrel's diagnosis of autism suggests a drug-related connection, or perhaps the shooter sought the notoriety given other mass murderers. God indicates that many undisciplined young people would become unloving despisers of good, lacking self-control, having no regard for human life at the close of the age (II Timothy 3:1-3). We should be vigilant, always situationally aware, realizing that God is mindful of these dangers to His people and will provide a protective shield for those who trust Him.



Most of you probably heard about the shooting that took place on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) late this past Tuesday afternoon. Two of my sons, Jarod and Aric, as well as Zachary Onisick, attend there. And of the three of them, only Zach was on campus that afternoon. It was the last day of classes, so the number of students who might have been there was a little bit lower than a normal day. Jarod did not even go to school that day—he didn't need to—and Aric was home by noon.

Unfortunately, Zachary went to a review, I think it was, and got caught on campus. He was only a building or two away from where it happened, and had to endure several hours of lockdown in a barricaded classroom for a while. From what I've heard, his parents were more concerned than he was, but that is usually the case, and I can understand that.

By the way, this hits close to home for a lot of us. Not only do I have children that go there, and the Onisick's do, but Bill himself is a graduate of UNCC. So are Kyle and Courtney Geer, and my son Johnny Ritenbaugh is also a graduate there. I'm sure these three young men will also be graduates of UNCC, so this shooting hits close to home for some of us here. Some of you younger people may know Gabriella Kroska. She graduated from there just this last year, too. So we know a lot of people who are affected by it in at least a small way.

The two students who were killed were identified as 19-year-old Ellis Parlier and 21-year-old Riley Howell. Drew Pescaro, 19, Sean Dehart, 20, Emily Houpt, 23, and Rami Alramadhan, 20, were injured in the attack. I'm sure you've all probably heard about the hero of it, Riley Howell. He was an ROTC cadet, and he has been credited with keeping things from being any worse. Students were instructed by a text to “run, hide, or fight,” and Howell chose the last of those three. He chose to fight, and he took the gunman to the ground, saving who-knows how many lives by doing so, but sacrificing his own in the process.

We still do not know the motives of the gunman, 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell. He was a former student—he had dropped out before doing this by a couple of months. But he still had a working campus ID, and he was therefore able to get on campus and do what he did. He was booked into the Mecklenburg County jail on two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder, possessing and firing a weapon on educational property, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Evidently, he had been preparing this attack for several months. But officials tell us that he has given them no immediately apparent motive for the attack, though in making a full confession, he said he deliberately picked the building he entered. He also stated that he had studied the Sandy Hook attack quite in-depth. He chose a large classroom in which anthropology students were giving presentations, and one eyewitness later said he sat among the spectators for about ten minutes before he just started shooting. He said nothing—made no cry-out—he just started shooting. Charlotte-Mecklenberg police chief Kerr Putney said, “We can't really discern the why just yet. There was no specific person [targeted], and the randomness is what is most upsetting.”

When these things happen, we like to know why. We always ask, "Why? What is going on here? What was his motive? What was he thinking? What was he trying to prove?" But at this point, it appears that we are not going to get a satisfying answer to that. Maybe we will, maybe we won't.

It has been revealed that Terrell was diagnosed as being somewhere along the autism spectrum, and perhaps—I don’t know for sure; I’m speculating 100%—he may have been on a mental illness drug of some sort. Such pharmaceuticals, called psychotropic drugs,have been linked to a good number of these mass killers in recent times, and I just wonder if this isn’t another case of that. I don't know that; like I said, I am just speculating, and maybe we will find out in a while, if that should come out.

But these things are happening frequently in the United States. According to the Washington Post, more than 226,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since thirteen people—twelve students and one teacher—were killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. It's kinds of ironic that a good many of the college students were born in that year. When I was in Denver, Colorado, for the Passover service and the First Day of Unleavened Bread, they were having a twentieth anniversary observance of the Columbine Massacre there. It is still having its traumatic effects 20 years on. These are no small things that happen, and they really cause quite a bit of turmoil for people.

When things like this happen, I often think of the prophecy the Apostle Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:1-5 about the attitudes of people in the last days. Specifically, what comes to mind is verse 3 and the descriptors there. He mentions, “unloving, . . . without self-control, brutal, despisers of good.” The fact that the shooter had—at this point—no rational motive makes me think that these descriptors (“unloving, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good”) apply to him. From what we can see right now, he just didn’t care, and brutally killed and injured fellow students because he could. Again, I am speculating. I don't know. Maybe it is too soon to know any of these things. Perhaps, with no regard for human life, he was—in his own mind—playing live-action Fortnite, for all we know. I don't know.

It is a product of our times that we must be braced for such things to happen around us. We should be vigilant wherever we are. Be situationally aware at all times. If you know what is going on around you, you can make quick decisions and perhaps, hopefully, avoid such things. But in the end, we can thank God (as Ted said) that He is also aware, and He shields us from the worst of these nightmares.