UNC graduate student charged with killing faculty advisor makes first court appearance
The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student accused of killing a faculty member on Monday made his first appearance at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough on Tuesday afternoon.
Tailei Qi, 34, has been charged with first degree murder for the fatal shooting of his faculty advisor, Zijie Yan, on campus. Qi is also charged with an additional felony of carrying a gun on educational property.
Authorities on Tuesday said Qi walked into a classroom building Monday afternoon, shot Yan and then left. The details shed light on an attack that led to a campuswide lockdown as police searched for the gunman.
Chapel Hill city police arrested Qi in a residential neighborhood near the campus within two hours of the attack and didn't need to use force to take him into custody, UNC Police Chief Brian Jones said at a news conference. He said investigators were still trying to determine a motive and were still searching for the gun used to kill Yan.
Qi was previously held at the Orange County jail without bond. During today's hearing, the District Attorney requested no change.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Sherri Murrell scheduled Qi’s next court hearing for Sept. 18. Additional information from the investigation is expected to emerge earlier when search warrants become public or if there’s a bond hearing.
Murrell ordered Qi to remain jailed without bond as an interpreter explained to Qi in Mandarin what was happening. When the hearing ended, Qi bowed to his interpreter, his attorney and the guards before they took him away in handcuffs. Dana Graves, a public defender who represented Qi at the hearing, left the courtroom without talking to reporters.
Orange County DA Jeff Nieman made a campaign promise not to seek death penalty in any case, and said he will not in this case. A 9 mm handgun is the weapon believed to be used in the killing.
Yan was an assistant professor at the applied physical sciences department at UNC, where he had been working since 2019.
"He was a beloved colleague, mentor, and a friend of so many on our campus, and a father to two young children," UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said at a press conference Tuesday. "My leadership team and I have met with his colleagues in the department of applied physical sciences and chemistry to express our condolences."
Qi had joined Yan's research group in Jan. 2022, according to Qi's Linkedin profile. Campus police said he appeared to have gone directly to Yan in Caudill Lab and then left.
The belltower will ring at 1:02 p.m. on Wednesday in honor of Yan and a vigil is being planned for tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. outside Caudill Laboratories.
The shooting Monday afternoon triggered a campus lockdown, in which thousands of students and faculty sheltered in place for about three hours.
The university is encouraging students to use mental health resources on campus. Classes have also been canceled Wednesday.
WUNC's Eli Chen, Elizabeth Baier, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.