A graduate student allegedly shot and killed a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill Monday afternoon, according to university officials and police, locking down the campus for several hours.
The suspect, Tailei Qi, a graduate student in applied physical sciences, was taken into custody Monday afternoon. Formal charges are pending, police said at a press conference Monday evening.
University officials and police did not identify the deceased faculty member as they worked to notify their family.
Police have not pinpointed a motive, but Qi’s Twitter posts expressed frustration, stress and depression. This year and last, he made a series of vague posts about conflict with other students and his “PI” or principal investigator, usually a faculty member assigned by the university to work with students on research projects.
It is not clear whether that PI is the faculty member who was killed.
“Just feel my privacy was insulted,” Qi wrote in a Twitter post on July 18 2022. “When I work, I will think I was showing the boss I am working instead of interests, devaluing the meaning of my work. That’s so disgusting. Self-respect block me from working. Then it takes pains to convince myself what I do is just because I like.”
On Aug. 1 of last year he posted:
“Bully in America seems to be a problem. It often comes with people not stopping them at the first time. Explanation is not a solution but makes them feel others will plead them every time they raise a problem, making them voyeur to find an excuse day and night.”
On Aug. 18, 2022, he made another vague post about a conflict with students involving his PI:
“Just have a talk with my PI and get his promise. He should have more experience to handle with these girls and tattletales. Then, we can just get ourselves out of these stupid topic. Let’s just focus our attention on nature. I won’t change anything if not necessary.”
In October of 2022 he again made vague posts about conflicts with his PI and other students: “Both the group of people to say I am lazy and that to prove me working hard instead of telling me that they are trying to consume my privacy,” he posted on Oct 31, 2022. “I judge their motivation is only to tell my PI then control me by taletelling.”
“But it’s weird when I talked about it with my PI,” he posted. “He said no people spoke to him about that. So it’s nothing but some voyeurism for these people?”
In another vague post on May 30 of this year, Qi again seemed to express frustration with his working environment: “These kind of people may be a good man actually, but might not be a sincere friend,” he posted. “For a Phd student, pay much attention to working time every day is really childish…I know many people want to me to show them working and working, but no…that’s not human at all.”
In June of this year, he posted a series of vague posts denigrating women/
On June 5 he posted: “Many conunter-intuitive (sic) situation in society: minimum wage do more harm to instead to protect the poor; gender quota is not to protect women but to enhance discrimination.”
“When this kind of girl shows her ‘best’ to beg others to ‘help’ me, all people then look down on me,” he posted the evening of June 12. “Kind of angelic bitch.”
Several tweets before that one were deleted, leaving it without context.
On July 31 he posted about wanting to make new friends.
“Would like to make some new friends,” he posted. “I am a second-year PhD student, interested in nanoparticle synthesis, optical trapping, self-assembly, spectra analysis, and ML. a bit stupid in daily trifles, very enthusiastic talking about research. Reach me if inerest [sic].”
That same day he posted a single, cryptic sentence: “What is truth?”
Students barricaded in classrooms for several hours
The university sent an Alert Carolina message to the campus community shortly after 1 p.m. Monday after reports of shots fired at Caudill Labs, which houses chemistry labs. The campus canceled all classes and events – including a special meeting of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
Students, faculty and staff sheltered in place inside classrooms, libraries, labs and dorms, turning out lights and barricading doors as police searched for the shooter.
At 2:35 p.m. the university police released a photo of Qi, calling him a person of interest. A different man, not involved in the shooting, was initially taken into custody Monday but was released, according to UNC-Chapel Hill police. Police took Qi into custody at 2:31 p.m. about a mile from campus along Williams Circle, according to a statement from UNC Police.
“This is really a time for the community to come together,” said Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz at the press conference. “These tragic events, sadly, are happening across our nation. It’s why we prepare and talk about a sense of community. Right now, my thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family, friends, colleagues and students who are part of that department.”
UNC Hospitals was put under a lockdown early in the afternoon, but a hospital spokesperson said they had received no one with injuries related to the incident. The hospital lockdown was lifted shortly after 4 p.m., and police issued an “all clear.”
Police and FBI agents were on campus after the lockdown was lifted, canvassing the area of Caudill Labs, where a bullet hole could be seen in a window.
“It’s a day we train for,” said James at the press conference. “But we hope it never comes.”
Monday marked the second week of the fall semester on campus. Classes have been cancelled Tuesday.
Monday’s shooting at UNC-Chapel Hill is one of a growing number of fatal shootings on college campuses. Here’s a partial list:
Feb 2023 – Michigan State University – A gunman fatally shot three students and wounded five others.
November 2022 – University of Virginia – A gunman opened fire on a bus killing three UVa students and injuring two others.
April 2019 – UNC-Charlotte – A gunman shot six people at UNC-Charlotte on the last day of classes in their spring semester. Two students were killed, four other injured.
October 2015 – Umpqua Community College – A gunman killed nine people and injured nine others at the community college in Oregon.
April 2007 – Virginia Tech – A gunman fatally shot 32 people and injured 26 others before taking his own life. The Virginia Tech massacre remains the deadliest campus shooting on record.
“I’m sorry so many of you are feeling uncertain about your safety right now,” Guskiewicz said to students Monday. “We have very good protocols in place. There’s nothing more important on our campus than the safety of our community members and certainly our nearly 30,000 students are at the top of that list alongside our faculty and staff.”
“We’re here for you,” Guskiewicz said. “I’m pleading with you to use any of the resources you may need. We’ll come together as a community to ensure your safety and the safety of anyone who visits our campus here at Chapel Hill.”
The fatal shooting at UNC-Chapel Hill comes just days after a shooting on the campus of N.C. A&T University in Greensboro.
One person was injured in a shooting on that campus Friday night after a physical fight escalated outside the student center on campus. As many as ten shots were reported to police. Though campus officials and police said students weren’t involved in the on-campus incident, Chancellor Harold Martin said the university is stepping up police patrols and using a new policy that allows police to remove unwanted people from the campus.
NC Newsline’s Lisa Sorg and Clayton Henkel contributed to this report.