Crime & Courts

UNC Charlotte suspect says he planned for months, filmed shooting scene, warrant says

UNC Charlotte community grieves the the loss, injury of students

UNC Charlotte students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the public attended shared their grief during a candlelight vigil for the students killed and injured during a campus shooting the previous day.
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UNC Charlotte students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the public attended shared their grief during a candlelight vigil for the students killed and injured during a campus shooting the previous day.

The man accused of killing two UNC Charlotte students and injuring four more during a classroom shooting told police that he filmed the scene on his cell phone and spent several months planning the attack, according to newly public search warrants from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Trystan Terrell, 22, was found in the Kennedy Building classroom when police entered, late in the afternoon of April 30. He has been indicted on murder, attempted murder and assault charges.

A black Samsung phone was found in Terrell’s possession during his arrest, according to the warrant. He was interviewed by police at CMPD headquarters.

“During the course of the interview, Terrell admitted he used his cell phone to record a video of the scene,” according to the warrant.

The warrant shows that a magistrate approved a police search of the cell phone’s contents, but it does not describe what was in the phone or any detail about the video.

When asked for more information about the video, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokesperson Melissa Treadaway refused to comment, saying that anything connected to the search warrant is part of an ongoing investigation.

Another search warrant was filed for Terrell’s laptop. He told police that he used his laptop to research mass shootings during the months prior to the UNCC shooting.

Police believe the laptop and phone may also provide more information about Terrell’s conversations and interactions prior to the shooting, according to the warrants.

When police officers file search warrants, they often include details about the ongoing investigation or the crime itself.

The laptop search warrant describes the events in the classroom on April 30 in a different way from an older search warrant for a NoDa apartment.

In the apartment search warrant, police wrote that a witness, Joshua Ayers, said Terrell shot at people at a particular table. “It was apparent to Mr. Ayers that the subject targeted a specific table of people,” the warrant states.

But in the laptop search warrant, which was filed May 7, police shared information from their interview with Terrell. Police wrote that Terrell “began shooting people indiscriminately” once he entered the classroom. The source for that statement is not clear, and police refused to provide more information.

The laptop warrant, which became publicly available Friday, corroborates CMPD Chief Kerr Putney’s account of a student’s heroism during the shooting.

Terrell was on the ground when police reached the classroom, the warrant said.

“(Terrell) stated that he was tackled by a student in the room and he just laid there until police arrived,” according to the search warrant.

Shortly after the shooting, Putney identified that student as Riley Howell, who was killed during his effort to stop the shooter. Putney said Howell potentially saved lives that day.


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.