A graduate student named Tailei Qi has been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his professor, Zijie Yan, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The incident occurred inside a campus lab and prompted a lockdown that lasted for several hours.
Court documents filed in Orange County Court in Hillsborough, N.C. state that Qi, 34, was also charged with possession of a firearm on educational property. Qi appeared in court on Tuesday and was ordered to be held without bond until his next court appearance on September 18. No motive for the shooting has been revealed.
While North Carolina considers first-degree murder to be a capital crime, the Orange County district attorney stated that he would not seek the death penalty. If convicted, Qi faces a minimum sentence of life without parole.
Qi, a doctoral student in applied physical sciences at the university, had been a member of Professor Yan’s research group and was a co-author on at least two research papers. Professor Yan, who joined the university faculty in 2019, had a Ph.D. in materials engineering and was known for his work in optical trapping and manipulation, holography, microfluidics, and nanomaterials.
In response to the tragic incident, the university plans to hold a moment of silence at 1:02 p.m. on Wednesday in honor of Professor Yan. Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz expressed his condolences and urged the campus community to keep Professor Yan’s family and loved ones in their thoughts and prayers.
Tailei Qi’s background information reveals that he grew up in a small village in Henan Province, China. He and his younger brother achieved identical high scores on the national college entrance examination, and their family relied on farming as their main source of income.
The shooting took place at Caudill Labs, prompting the university to issue an alert advising individuals on campus to seek shelter and stay away from windows. Students took precautions by barricading themselves in various spaces throughout the campus. After an arrest was made and the suspect was in custody, the university lifted the lockdown and declared the situation to be clear.
The motive behind the shooting and the recovery of the weapon used in the crime remain under investigation. University officials are working to rebuild a sense of trust and safety within the campus community.