Victim identified, suspect charged in fatal UNC-Chapel Hill shooting

A tragic incident unfolded at UNC-Chapel Hill, where a graduate student named Tailei Qi, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences. Yan had been Qi’s academic advisor and research partner, co-authoring recent research papers together. The shooting occurred in the Caudill Labs building, leading to a campus lockdown and a subsequent manhunt.

Yan had been a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2019, having previously worked at the University of Chicago and Clarkson University. He held degrees in Material Science and Engineering, Computer Science, and had pursued advanced studies, including a Ph.D. in Material Engineering.

The investigation is ongoing, with Caudill Labs remaining closed during this process. UNC-Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian James mentioned in a press conference that they are collaborating with various law enforcement agencies to gather evidence and understand the motives behind the shooting.

Qi’s social media posts over the past year have shown signs of frustration towards his work, colleagues, and his principal investigator. These posts have sometimes been cryptic and elusive, but it’s not yet clear if they are directly related to Yan.

“I felt that my privacy was disrespected,” Qi stated in a tweet on July 18, 2022. “During work, I found myself showcasing my dedication to my boss rather than my interests, which cheapened the value of my efforts. It’s incredibly disheartening. My self-respect hinders my productivity. Then it becomes a struggle to reassure myself that I’m pursuing my work out of genuine interest.”

On August 18, 2022, Qi once more aired grievances about his colleagues in research, his work environment, and his PI (Principal Investigator).

“I had a conversation with my PI and secured his commitment,” he shared in a tweet. “He should possess greater expertise in managing interpersonal dynamics. This way, we can extricate ourselves from these trivial matters. Let’s channel our focus towards nature. I won’t make any changes unless absolutely necessary.”

In October 2022, he made ambiguous posts again, hinting at conflicts with his PI and fellow students: “There are two groups of people—one accuses me of laziness, while the other tries to prove my diligence. They both refrain from addressing their intention to invade my privacy,” he posted on October 31, 2022. “I suspect their motive is to inform my PI and exert control by being informants.” “However, my conversation with my PI was perplexing,” he shared. “He claimed no one had approached him about this. Could it be that these people are indulging in voyeurism?” In another post on May 30 of the following year, Qi expressed his frustration once again with his work environment and colleagues.

“Some of these individuals might be good people, yet they may not be genuine friends,” he posted. “For a PhD student, fixating solely on work hours each day is quite immature… I understand that many expect me to constantly display my work progress, but that’s not a reflection of true humanity.”

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