By Gauri Patel
A graduate student has been charged with first-degree murder after fatally shooting his faculty advisor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. According to AP News, students and others were prompted to shelter in place for hours as the campus entered a lockdown while police searched for the gunman.
The suspect was identified as 34-year-old Tailei Qi, a Chinese citizen who is in the United States on a visa. According to Orange County District Attorney Jeff Neiman, Qi made his first court appearance on Aug. 29 and is being held without bond, as reported by CNN. He has been charged with first-degree murder and a misdemeanor for possessing a firearm on educational property.
In remembrance of the victim of the shooting, Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ applied physical sciences department, makeshift memorials were constructed around campus, including one featuring a model of a molecule.
During a press briefing, UNC Police Chief Brian James said Yan served as a faculty advisor to Qi in the same department. The two have previously worked together to co-author several research papers, including one published last month, and collaborated as a part of a department research group over the last year.
Authorities have not publicly speculated about a motive for the shooting.
“We want to ensure that we gather every piece of evidence to determine exactly what happened here today and why it happened,” James stated. “It is too early in this investigation to know a motive for the shooting.”
On Monday at 1:02 p.m., campus police received a call reporting shots being fired at Caudill Laboratories, a chemistry studies building. Emergency alerts were issued and sirens sounded two minutes later, prompting students and faculty to barricade themselves in classrooms, bathrooms and dorm rooms, according to AP News.
Approximately two hours after the first alert was released, officers were still arriving on scene, with about 50 police vehicles at the campus and helicopters circling overhead.
Videos posted to social media captured the desperation faced by students and faculty after the emergency alert was issued. Two students were seen jumping out of a two-story window and more were seen huddling under desks and sending messages to their loved ones, according to NBC.
Clayton Ulm, a graduate student, told AP News in a LinkedIn message how his class of 50 to 70 people went into lockdown after screens in the room flashed with the lockdown order.
“Then there was quite a bit of panic as students were trying to figure out what to do,” he wrote. “Then we all started hiding beneath our chairs and under desks. Some students went and locked the doors.”
Some students began listening to police scanners to try to get more information about where the shooter was. Eventually, after three hours of hiding in the classroom, the panic subsided as people were allowed to use nearby bathrooms.
Qi was taken into custody shortly after 2:30 p.m. after being located on foot about one mile away, as stated by UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz during the press briefing.
Authorities had detained one person before Qi but quickly realized that they were not the gunman, according to CNN. After Qi was taken into custody, the campus remained in lockdown to confirm the shooter's identity and find the firearm used. About an hour and a half passed before the lockdown order was lifted, according to James, in order for police to make sure they had the right suspect in custody. Several calls had been received from different parts of campus about potential victims which needed to be thoroughly investigated.
Classes and campus activities were canceled on Monday and Tuesday, and the University announced that the campus would remain closed on Wednesday but would return to normal operations on Thursday.
Caudill Labs remains off-limits as the investigation into the shooting continues.
“This loss is devastating and the shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted in our campus community.” Guskiewicz said. “We will work to rebuild that sense of trust and safety within our community.”