A graduate student from China has been charged with murder after he shot a University of North Carolina faculty member on campus.
Tailei Qi was arrested on Aug. 28 near the Chapel Hill campus after the shooting in Caudill Labs, which triggered a four-hour lockdown.
The 34-year-old appeared in Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough on Aug. 29. He was charged with first-degree murder and having a gun on educational property. He was ordered to remain in jail without bond.
“To 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,” said UNC Police Chief Brian James at a press conference on Aug. 28, per The Guardian.
The victim, Zijie Yan, was an associate professor for the Department of Applied Physical Sciences and founded the Yan Research Group, which Qi joined in 2022.
“A since-deleted page on the school’s website listed Qi as a graduate student in Yan’s research group, with Yan as his adviser, though the police chief said their ties were still under investigation,” reports AP News. “Qi previously studied at Wuhan University in China before earning a masters in mechanical engineering at Louisiana State University in 2021.”
According to Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman, Qi used a 9mm pistol that has not been recovered. Nieman has also said he does not intend to pursue the death penalty.
The exact motive for Qi’s attack is still unclear. Posts on his social media accounts indicate he felt isolated in North Carolina and stressed about his work,
“Bully in America seems to be a problem. It often comes with people not stopping them at the first time,” he wrote on X in August of 2022.
“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,” Qi wrote, per The Independent.
The outlet also noted he previously alluded to conflicts with his “PI” – the head of his lab.
“Just have a talk with my PI and get his promise. He should have more experience to handle with these girls and tattletales,” Qi wrote in one post. “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.”
The UNC-Chapel Hill bell tower was rung in Yan’s honor at 1:02 PM on Aug. 29.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Yan family, especially his two young children, and our faculty, staff and students,” said David L. Boliek Jr., chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees in a statement. “We are committed to providing the necessary resources to the professionals on campus who provide mental health and other support services to the university community, as well as public safety efforts to support and keep the campus safe.”
Qi’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 18.