According to police, the shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte could have been much, much worse if it weren’t for one brave 21-year-old student — Riley Howell. Howell rushed the gunman, knocking him off his feet, saving countless lives but losing his in the process.

Riley and his long-time girlfriend.

The Police Chief said he was “first and foremost hero” in bringing Tuesday evening’s shooting to an end. “He took the fight to the assailant,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney. “Unfortunately, he had to give his life to do so, but he saved lives doing so.”

A vehicle carrying Howell’s body back to his hometown Thursday, escorted by police, goes under an overpass where a fire crew raised a US flag in tribute.

Riley Howell’s family, friends and his girlfriend have said they weren’t surprised.

In an interview with NBC News, his mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, said the family is “just beyond proud of what he was able to do.”While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran toward the shooter,” Henry-Howell said in an interview broadcast Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today” show.”That’s what he would have done, no matter what,” his girlfriend of five years, Lauren Westmoreland, told NBC.

The other student killed in the shooting was 19-year-old Reed Parlier. Today, a memorial for the students is planned. Let’s make Riley Howell famous, not his assailant.