Crime & Courts

‘Terror set in.’ Lecturer details what happened in his UNCC class as gunman arrived

‘I could very well die today’: UNCC senior describes hearing gunshots down the hall

UNCC senior Krysta Dean was in a nearby classroom when shots rang out on April 30, 2019. "(What) was going through my head was I could very well die today," Dean said. "I was mentally preparing myself for what it would be like to get shot."
Up Next
UNCC senior Krysta Dean was in a nearby classroom when shots rang out on April 30, 2019. "(What) was going through my head was I could very well die today," Dean said. "I was mentally preparing myself for what it would be like to get shot."

Before this week’s deadly encounter, the last time UNC Charlotte lecturer Adam Johnson saw the man accused of killing two of his students was in late January or early February, Johnson wrote in a blog post Thursday.

The man had been enrolled in Johnson’s course on anthropology and philosophy of science, but he’d withdrawn from it early in the semester. Johnson ran into him on campus and told him he understood the decision but thought it was a shame, he wrote in the post on his blog, Anthopology 365.

Johnson was listening to student presentations during the final session of that class Tuesday afternoon, when police say Trystan Terrell, 22, opened fire and killed Riley Howell and Ellis Parlier. Four more students were injured.

As Johnson put it, “We get about seven minutes into (a group presentation of a) video and without warning, earsplitting bangs ring throughout the room, off the glass walls, creating a terrible reverberation... Terror set in and we took off for the opposite door.”

He held it open for students. One fell down while running, and Johnson wrote he “pick(ed) them up.”

In the chaos outside, Johnson wrote that he guided a few students to his office on the second floor of a nearby building, where he knew he’d be able to lock multiple doors between them and the shooter.

The group ended up in the anthropology department chairman’s office. They huddled away from the windows and the chairman called 911.

“After approximately four minutes (however it felt like four hours) we see police officers rushing by the building in the direction of the incident,” Johnson wrote. “The students that I have in the room with me are expressing different emotional responses: crying, disbelief, shock.”

adam johnson.JPG
Adam Johnson Anthropology 365

Some of his students had left their phones in the classroom, Johnson wrote, so he and the chairman loaned theirs to help everyone contact family members. Eventually, a police officer arrived and told the group to leave the building with their hands up, and they moved toward the east side of campus, Johnson wrote.

“Several of my brave students were already there and we embraced,” Johnson wrote. They found out the shooter had been arrested.

From there, the group was driven to an old Kohl’s near campus for police interviews, Johnson wrote. They were offered wraps, lemonade and sweet tea by the officers, whom he described as “very professional, accommodating and gentle.”

Counselors met them there, according to Johnson, and they were offered city resources so they could get counseling later on.

A sleepless night

Johnson said he couldn’t sleep that night.

“Without my partner and my former professors, I think I would have slipped into a dire mental state,” he wrote. His colleagues fed him and his partner two nights in a row, and they provided all the support they could, he wrote.

Later, he talked with his students and learned more about the moments of the shooting.

“Before opening fire, the shooter said nothing, did not indicate that they were going to shoot; simply raised the gun and started to fire,” Johnson wrote, citing fellow survivors as sources.

classroom photo.JPG
UNCC lecturer Adam Johnson was teaching in this classroom when a deadly shooting began, he wrote in a blog post. Anthropology 365

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney called Howell a hero for tackling the shooter and saving lives. Johnson didn’t name him but described his actions, calling him “an absolute hero.”

In the classroom, Johnson wrote, students told him the shooter apparently stopped shooting of his own accord.

“The shooter emptied the magazine, laid the gun down, and sat on the ground,” he wrote. “One victim asked the shooter to stop shooting and they said ‘I’m done.’ ”

Johnson described Terrell’s behavior earlier in the semester as typical, saying that he appeared engaged and answered questions. He refused to name Terrell in the blog post, writing that no one should use his name.

“We should not glorify him as it contributes to this kind of violence while continually traumatizing the victims and survivors,” he wrote.

Johnson wrote that he’s heartbroken and still processing everything that happened.

It’s cathartic for him to examine the shooting as an anthropologist, he wrote, and identify structural issues that lead to frequent mass shootings in the United States.

People have a “moral obligation” to address the structural issues and try to prevent future mass shootings, he wrote.

“Reducing inequality, providing our citizens with security in life and coming together to strive for a better future for all is our duty as citizens of our country and the world,” he wrote.


Why we named the UNCC shooting suspect

After the fatal shooting April 30 at UNC Charlotte, some people on social media urged The Observer and other media outlets not to name the suspect or show his face. They argued that mass shooters seek notoriety, and news outlets should not reward them with it.

We understand and appreciate this sentiment, and debated in the newsroom about whether to name the suspect. In the end, we decided that any harm of naming him and showing his image was outweighed by the public’s right and need to know a key fact from an event of such huge public importance.

At The Observer, we believe it is important, almost all of the time, to give our readers all the relevant information we can on news of our city, region and state. We believe that the public deserves to know what we know, and we don’t want to hide information from them, except in certain cases where it could harm an innocent person, such as a rape victim. The logic that would lead us to withhold the suspect’s name in this case could be used to argue for withholding other salient facts from other stories.

By not naming him, we arguably are not holding him accountable.

We understand that some readers will not want to see his name or face; many other readers will.

It’s a difficult issue. We agree that the suspect should not be glorified or given a spotlight. And so we have intentionally not run his photograph prominently, in print or online.

At The Observer, we constantly make judgment calls. In this case, we believe the people’s right to know facts of public importance overrides concerns about giving the suspect undeserved attention.

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.