UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student charged with murder in fatal shooting of faculty member

UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student charged with murder in fatal shooting of faculty member

Aug. 29, 2023, 6:15 AM PDT / Updated Aug. 29, 2023, 10:35 AM PDT

By Erik Ortiz and Kate Martin

The suspect, Tailei Qi, an applied physical sciences major, was arrested following the shooting.

A graduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was charged with first-degree murder after the fatal shooting of a professor in his research department.

Tailei Qi, an applied physical sciences major, was apprehended Monday afternoon following the shooting at Caudill Labs, a science building on the UNC campus, which prompted an hourslong lockdown that forced students and faculty to barricade themselves in classrooms and dorms as authorities searched for a suspect.

Qi, 34, was booked Tuesday in the Orange County Detention Center in Hillsborough and also charged with possession of a gun on an educational property, a felony. He was being held without bail ahead of a hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

The incident, which occurred in the second week of the fall semester at UNC, began when students were alerted to an armed and dangerous person after 1 p.m. The university issued another alert at 2:24 p.m. that the suspect remained at large. A photo of an unnamed person was released, and the suspect was later apprehended in a residential neighborhood near campus.

Videos shared on social media showed panicked students sheltering in place in classrooms and others climbing out of windows of a campus building. The lockdown was lifted at about 4:15 p.m.

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UNC Police Chief Brian James said the lockdown, which included neighboring public schools, continued even after the suspect was taken into custody as law enforcement verified his identity and investigated reports of potential other victims.

“We had to ensure that the entire campus was safe,” he said Monday.

No other injuries were reported in the shooting.

The victim was identified Tuesday as Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the applied sciences department since 2019. UNC police said the university was providing resources and support to his family.

A university department web page that has since been removed had listed Qi as being a member of Yan’s lab group.

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On his LinkedIn profile, Qi says he enrolled at UNC’s flagship campus in January 2022 as a graduate student and research assistant, and shared links to papers on his research. One paper published last month in the journal Advanced Optical Materials was co-authored with Yan.

Qi’s LinkedIn profile says he previously studied at Louisiana State University and schools in China, including Wuhan University, before coming to North Carolina.

A gun was not immediately recovered in Monday’s shooting, but authorities said they would be interviewing the suspect for a motive.

“We certainly want the opportunity to interview the suspect,” James said. “To actually have the suspect in custody gives us an opportunity to figure out the why. And even the how, and also helps us to uncover a motive and … really just why this happened today.”

Qi has had previous contact with law enforcement when he was pulled over for allegedly speeding in Orange County in February and then again two days before the shooting, when a state trooper issued him a citation for driving about 20 mph above the speed limit on an interstate, according to the Alamance County court.

Kevin Guskiewicz, UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor, said the loss of the faculty member was “devastating,” but the school would “work to rebuild that sense of trust and safety within our community.”

“Our hearts are with the family of our fellow faculty member, those who are personally connected to the victim and those traumatized by this senseless act of violence,” he said in a statement.”

UNC, the nation’s first public university, said classes were canceled Tuesday.

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