A Murder in the ‘Southern Part of Heaven’: UNC Graduate Student Charged with Killing His Academic Advisor

A graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday for allegedly shooting and killing his faculty adviser in a classroom building.


A graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday for allegedly shooting and killing his faculty adviser in a classroom building.

  • Orange County prosecutors charged Tailei Qi, a 34-year-old Chinese national, with killing Zijie Yan inside Caudill Labs on Monday around 1:00pm. He was also charged with possession of a weapon on educational property.
  • Qi quickly escaped from the building shortly after killing Yan, and was arrested at 2:40pm on Williams Circle, a neighborhood not far up Martin Luther King Blvd. from Chapel Hill’s iconic Franklin Street.  The 9 mm pistol police believe was used to kill Yan has not been found.
  • UNC’s campus went into lockdown shortly after the first reports of gunshots on campus and was not lifted until after Qi was apprehended. While most students were in no imminent danger, many described the experience of the three-hour lockdown as “horrifying.” Most new students had only been on campus for little more than a week before the shooting.
  • Zijie Yan, a father of two, was remembered by colleagues as an accomplished researcher and scientist. Yan was an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences and he studied how nanoscience technology can be used to improve the delivery of drugs to human cells.
  • Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz cancelled classes for most of the week and offered condolences to Yan’s family. The university bell tower will ring at 1:02pm in Yan’s honor, followed by a campus-wide moment of silence.
  • Yan had reportedly spoken with a colleague about a student who had told Yan he was struggling with “severe mental illness and delusions.” Qi joined the Yan Research Group in January. The research team focused on areas like machine learning, spectra analysis and light matter interaction.
  • Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman said he would not pursue the death penalty in this case. The suspect is being held without bond. The maximum penalty Qi faces is life in prison.
  • “We will continue to ask questions and find ways to make our safety procedures even more effective,” Chancellor Guskiewicz told the media. “We know that the wounds of this tragedy will not heal quickly.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • Axios reported from the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, where “an eerie silence” hung over Polk Place, the university’s main quad. Caudill Labs remains closed off with police tape, and a bouquet of flowers was laid at the entrance.
  • The New York Times noted it’s still unclear whether the suspect purchased his weapon legally or illegally. Qi, a native of China’s Henan Province, is being represented by a public defender.
  • According to the Independent, Qi frequently complained on social media in the weeks leading up to the shooting. Qi complained about the head of his lab, griped about “girls and tattletales,” and was upset about hard work and bullies.



  • The New York Post covered a May 30, 2023 social media post from Qi where he decried his feelings of loneliness and antagonistic relationships with his fellow students. “These kind of people may be a good man actually, but might not be a sincere friend,” Qi wrote. “For a Phd student, pay much attention to working time every day is really childish…I know many people want to me to show them working and working, but no…that’s not human at all.”
  • Weeks before the murder, Qi posted on social media about his desires for new friends, according to Fox News. “[W]ould like to make some new friends,” he posted on X in July. “I am a second-year PhD student, interested in nanoparticle synthesis, optical trapping, self-assembly, spectra analysis, and ML. [A] bit stupid in daily trifles, very enthusiastic talking about research.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reported police kept the lockdown in place for nearly two hours after the suspect was apprehended in ordered to clear campus and determine whether they had arrested the correct person and that all threats to students had been neutralized.

Author’s Take

As a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving a notification about a shooting at UNC filled me with a deep feeling of dread. My heart goes out to the family of Professor Zijie Yan and all those who knew and worked with him. I hope that all the young Tar Heels for whom this school year has been indelibly scarred with the terror of an active shooter and a campus-wide lockdown can find ways to return to how they felt at 1:00pm on Monday, before the suspect charged into Caudill Labs. The sense of trust and safety that envelops the UNC campus community will take time to rebuild, but it must be rebuilt. For many Tar Heels including myself, UNC is more than a just a university – UNC is home. No one’s home should be desecrated in this way.

While writing this article, my mind turned unbidden to the iconic words of legendary journalist Charles Kuralt, who gave the UNC Bicentennial Address in 1993. Kuralt’s words are familiar to all Tar Heels and anyone who has watched a UNC sporting event on TV in the past few years.

“What is it that binds us to this place as no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming. Our loyalty is not only to William Richardson Davie, though we are proud of what he did 200 years ago today. Not even to Dean Smith, though we are proud of what he did last March. No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.”

May Zijie Yan rest in peace.

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© Dominic Moore, 2023

2 comments On A Murder in the ‘Southern Part of Heaven’: UNC Graduate Student Charged with Killing His Academic Advisor

  • “‘Southern Part of Heaven’: UNC”
    Umm… not. I live 30 min away, Chapel Hill is attractive to drive through, there’s certainly finer places in the South, and nearby.
    UC Chapel Hill with Ralph Baric gave the world Gain of Function. Obama said it’s too dangerous to have on US soil, so UNC, Baric, NIH and Fauci had the work continue in Wuhan.

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