UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Tailei Qi, 34, has been charged with first degree murder in Monday’s on-campus shooting of Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Applied Physical Sciences.
Yan, who was identified as the victim Tuesday, served as academic advisor to Qi. The two men co-authored research papers – one published just last month – and worked closely as part of a department research group over the last year. Qi is alleged to have shot Yan in the Caudill Labs building, prompting a campus-wide shut down and hours-long manhunt as students, faculty and staff sheltered in place.
Yan taught at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2019, coming to the campus after post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago and serving as an assistant professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. He earned a dual bachelor’s degree in Material Science and Engineering and Computer Science in 2005 from Hauzhong University of Science and Technology in Hubei province, China. That’s the same province in which Qi earned a bachelor’s in physics at Wuhan University.
Yan earned his master’s in Physical Electronics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2007 and a Ph.D. in Material Engineering in 2011.
Caudill Labs, site of the shooting, is still off limits as an investigation into the shooting continues.
“We want to ensure we gather every piece of evidence so we can determine what happened here today and why it happened,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian James in a Monday press conference. “It is too early in this investigation to know a motive for the shooting.”
James said his department would be working with state and federal law enforcement agencies as the investigation moves forward.
In Twitter posts over the last year, Qi expressed frustration with his work, his graduate student colleagues and his “PI” or principal investigator, usually a faculty member assigned by the university to work with students on research projects. It is not yet clear whether Yan was the subject of these social media posts, which were often vague, cryptic and frequently parts of partially deleted threads.
“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. 18, 2022, Qi again complained about his research colleagues, work environment and his PI.
“Just have a talk with my PI and get his promise,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “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 post on May 30 of this year, Qi again expressed frustration with his working environment and colleagues.
“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.”