UNC student charged with murder of his faculty advisor

A police officer climbed the steps of Caudill Labs following an active shooting incident on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Photo courtesy of Lauren Rhodes, The Daily Tar Heel. 

GABI MORANDO | MANAGING EDITOR | gmorando@butler.edu 

Two people were missing from the campus of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Aug. 29. Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences, was the victim of a fatal shooting the previous day. Tailei Qi, a UNC-Chapel Hill Ph.D. student, sat in court charged with Yan’s murder. 

According to the UNC biographical page, Yan was Qi’s faculty advisor. The page, which has since been deleted, is available on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

The campus was on lockdown for hours after reports of an armed and dangerous person on or near campus Monday afternoon around 1 p.m.. In a message to the campus community, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said UNC Police were notified that shots had been fired in chemistry building Caudill Labs

Sisters Emily and Caroline Walton, second-year and third-year medical students at UNC, said they pass the lab every day on their way home. 

“It’s like the heart of Chapel Hill,” Caroline said. “I just can’t even imagine what that would feel like to be so scared [in the lab while under lockdown]. I heard some reports of people who heard [Qi] trying to open doors. I just can’t imagine having a normal Monday morning and then being so scared. It’s just ridiculously scary and horrific that people went through that.” 

Emily and Caroline were not on campus at the time the initial report came through on Alert Carolina — Chapel Hill’s emergency notification system. Emily, who was in a Zoom class at the time of the alert, said she heard sirens coming from other students’ computers during the class. In a state of shock, the sisters said their phones were bombarded with messages wondering what was going on, while they were simultaneously reaching out to people they knew who were on campus at the time of the alert. 

Qi, who is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a weapon on educational property, was apprehended around 2:30 p.m.. 

Prior to coming to Butler last year, assistant professor of communication Dr. Kristen Patrow was a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill for seven years working for professors as a teaching assistant and then teaching her own classes. 

She first heard about the situation from one of her best friends who works at Duke University — about 15 minutes away from UNC. 

“I immediately started thinking about all of the professors and staff that I know [at UNC] and the students that I’d had,” Patrow said. “It was scary … That’s not my campus anymore, but [the shooting] was in a space where there are people I care about.” 

Patrow said she was saddened by the “sparse” national coverage immediately following the shooting, and wonders if it was due to the incident resulting in a singular death. 

Almost nine months into the year, there have been more school shootings than weeks thus far in 2023. According to a CNN tally, there have been 49 school shootings in the United States — 34 reported on K-12 campuses and 15 on university and college campuses. 

“I came to Butler because I really care about students,” Patrow said. “ … Part of the reason I’m here is because I really care about relationships with students and watching them grow. To walk into a classroom and have in the back of your head that there is a threat that could happen at any point that you have no control over is hard.” 

Junior sports media major Thomas Brown hails from Raleigh, North Carolina — about 25 minutes away from UNC-Chapel Hill. Similar to Patrow, he wonders how many more shootings will have to happen before tangible action is taken. 

“Something needs to change,” Brown said. “I don’t know if anything will change, but we’ve been doing too much talking. It’s time for action.” 

Qi is being held without bond and is scheduled to appear back in court on Sept. 18. If convicted, he faces a minimum of life in prison without parole for the first-degree murder charge, and two years for the weapons charge. The maximum sentence for first-degree murder in North Carolina is the death penalty.


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