UNC mourns the loss of Dr. Zijie Yan, faculty member – graduate student charged with first-degree murder

Dr. Zijie Yan, associate professor UNC. Photo supplied by UNC Media Relations.


By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

Bells in the Morehead-Patterson tower at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill will toll at 1:02 p.m. today in honor of Dr. Zijie Yan, who was killed on Monday. “I hope you will join me in praying for Dr. Yan’s loved ones, as they are certainly hurting at this time. We ask everyone on campus to join in a moment of silence as the bells ring”, said UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Classes have been suspended since Monday afternoon and will continue through today so that “our community can continue the healing process,” said Guskiewicz. He said classes will resume on Thursday. Critical-Condition 3 is in effect until 11:59 p.m. today. This means that classes are canceled and all non-mandatory operations are suspended.

Tailei Qi’s booking photo was provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on August 29, 2023.

Tailei Qi, 34, a graduate student suspected in yesterday’s shooting, has been charged by the UNC Police Department with first-degree murder and possession of a weapon on educational property, both felony charges, according to a UNC media press release at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Additional charges may be added as the investigation continues.

Qi is accused of shooting Professor Yan inside Caudill Laboratories at 131 South Road on the UNC campus around 1 p.m. on Monday. He is being held at the Orange County Jail without bail.

Chief Brian James, UNC Police, provided an update on what is known about what transpired on Monday afternoon at a Tuesday press conference.

“We have determined that the victim and the suspect knew each other and that the suspect went directly to the victim inside the Caudill Labs and left,” James said. He said other people were inside the building at the time of the incident but did not comment on whether anyone else was in the room where the shooting occurred.

He added that the suspect left the building quickly after the incident. UNCPD was inside the building within minutes and the suspect was gone. He left on foot in the direction of Williams Circle. James said they had not determined how many shots were fired.

Qi was captured and arrested by Chapel Hill Police Department officers on Williams Circle in Chapel Hill, without incident, meaning there was no force used. Williams Circle is where the suspect resided, according to James. Qi has been active on social media and maintains a current Linkedin profile.

The suspect’s car was located on campus, has been impounded and is being processed by the FBI’s Evidence Response Team. James said that the firearm used in the shooting has not been recovered.

According to James, the FBI has provided services to the victim’s family and identified witnesses. “At this time, it is still too early to establish a definitive motive. This will be something that we will continue to determine throughout the course of the investigation.” He asked that anyone with additional information regarding the case contact UNCPD at 919-962-8100.

Yan was the suspect’s academic advisor and Qi and Yan had co-authored research papers on the effect of light on nanoparticles, according to the university web page. Yan’s credentials include Huazhong University of Science and Technology – Dual B.S. Materials Science and Engineering, Computer Science (2005); M.S. Physical Electronics (2007); Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Ph.D. Materials Engineering (2011); University of Chicago – Postdoc (2011-2015); Clarkson University – Assistant Professor (2015-2019). He has been employed at UNC as an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences since 2019.

Guskiewicz said, “He was a beloved colleague, mentor, and a friend of so many on our campus and a father to two young children. My leadership team and I have met with his colleagues in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences and Chemistry to express our condolences.”

The sequence of events on Monday

The shooting advisory was sent out as an Emergency Alert Carolina 

message to UNC members at 1:04 p.m., alerting them to “an armed and dangerous person on or near campus.” This alert immediately prompted a campus lockdown and advisories to shelter in place, according to UNC Police Chief Brian James during the press conference.

Chancellor Guskiewiez said that the campus has an active shooter protocol that was implemented at the time of the incident. “We are part of the national Run, Hide, Fight program.

“We enacted all of our protocols as far as communication. The call came to 911 at 1:02 p.m. on Monday. The sirens were activated and an Alert Carolina message went out,” James said.

James said the suspect was taken into custody at 2:31 p.m. but a search of the surrounding area was still in progress after the arrest.

The campus lockdown prompted Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) to issue a secure mode order to its district. According to Andy Jenks CHCCS chief communications officer, schools operating under the secure mode status meant that classroom instruction continued normally, but doors were closed and locked with no one allowed to enter or leave until the all-clear was given by authorities at 4:26 p.m. on Monday.

UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said during Monday’s press conference (before Dr. Yan was identified), “We will work to rebuild that sense of trust and safety within our community, and our hearts are with the family of our fellow faculty member, those who are personally connected to him and those traumatized by this senseless act of violence.”

Hotlines set up by UNC provide support for students, faculty, staff and parents. To address concerns and questions about the incident, call 919-918-1999. Counseling and Psychological Services are available to any students who need to speak to a mental health provider and can be reached at 919-966-3568 or caps@unc.edu.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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1 Comment on "UNC mourns the loss of Dr. Zijie Yan, faculty member – graduate student charged with first-degree murder"

  1. Thank you for your thorough coverage and taking time to verify all the facts before publishing.

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