UNC-Chapel Hill grad student Tailei Qi charged with murder in shooting death of professor Zijie Yan

A graduate student at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill was charged with murder Tuesday morning in the shooting death of a faculty member.

Tailei Qi was charged with first-degree murder and possession of a weapon on educational property, both felony charges, UNC Police said Tuesday. Authorties identified the victim as Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences. Qi is listed as a graduate student in Yan’s research group.

Tailei Qi

Orange County Sheriff’s Office

“The University is in contact with Yan’s family and is providing resources and support,” police said in a statement.

UNC Police received a 911 call about shots fired at the Caudill Labs building on campus, UNC Police Chief Brian James said at a news conference Monday evening. The building, close to the center of campus, houses a chemistry department.

Upon arrival, police discovered that the professor had been shot and killed. 

“My prayers continue to be with the UNC Chapel Hill community today as the Tar Heels mourn the loss of Professor Zijie Yan, and process yesterday’s chaos and terror,” North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams wrote on social media Tuesday.  

Police have not revealed a possible motive.

“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. Why today, why at all?” James said Monday. “And we want to learn from this incident and we will certainly work to do our best to ensure that this never happens again on the UNC campus.”

After the suspect was apprehended, a campus-wide lockdown that had been prompted by the shooting remained in place while police confirmed the suspect’s identity and conducted a search for the weapon, James said. 

Classes are canceled Tuesday, and non-mandatory operations are suspended, the university said in a campus alert.

“This loss is devastating, and the shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted in our campus community,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said Monday.  

Gina Martinez contributed to this report.

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