The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill associate professor who was fatally shot Monday on campus was a father, according to local and global reports.
Graduate student Tailei Qi – one of two people in victim Zijie Yan’s research group in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences – allegedly murdered Yan in a lab on campus with a 9 mm pistol Monday afternoon, prompting a lockdown on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus as students began their first week of classes.
Yan “was a beloved colleague, mentor and friend to many on our campus,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a Tuesday statement.
“My leadership team and I have met with his colleagues and family to express our condolences on behalf of our campus. Please join me in thinking and praying for his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” Guskiewicz said.
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Yan lived in the North Carolina town of Apex, well known for its safety, with his two young children, according to The News and Observer in Raleigh.
He and Qi were researching “optical approaches to precisely manipulate nanoscopic objects and create artificial material assemblies with emergent properties,” according to Yan’s research synopsis on UNC’s website.
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Yan was originally from Jingmen, Hubei Province in Central China, and began his education at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China before coming to the United States to study and work at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Chicago, Clarkson University and then Chapel Hill, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Qi, 34, also grew up in China – specifically in Dasha Village, Jufan Township, Fengqiu County – one of the country’s poorer regions, according to Chinese media. The suspect reportedly has a younger brother, and his parents were farmers.
Qi and his brother’s college entry exam scores were apparently among the top five in Fengqiu County. ChinaNews.com previously described the brothers as “models of the village.”
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The outlet describes the brothers as shy and said they shared a simple bedroom with two beds, two desks, and an electric fan hanging on a wooden stick. Qi told the outlet that his favorite hobby was going to the bookstore.
The family also told ChinaNews.com that despite the brothers’ impressive test scores, they could not afford college tuition and planned to work part-time as tutors to save money.
Qi eventually went on to graduate from Wuhan University and then moved to the United States to attend Louisiana State University, where he received his master’s in materials science and engineering. The suspect began studying at Chapel Hill in January 2022.
Chinese media reported on Monday that both of Qi’s parents had died within the last three years, and he reportedly did not return from the United States for their funerals. A source familiar with Qi’s family described him as “normal” to Baidu Baike.
The suspect, who is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a gun on educational property, appeared in an orange jumpsuit in an Orange County courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the shooting.
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An Orange County judge denied bond for Qi and set a probable cause hearing for Sept. 18.
Authorities have not said if the suspect specifically targeted Yan and have not revealed a motive behind the killing. No other injuries were reported.
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