Tailei Qi, a second-year PhD student majoring in applied physical sciences, has been charged with the fatal shooting of his academic advisor, Zijie Yan. Mr Qi is facing charges of first-degree murder and carrying a weapon while on campus.
The suspect appeared in court on Tuesday and had an interpreter explain to him what happened in the courtroom in Mandarin, the Associated Press reports. He was ordered held without bond and his next court hearing was scheduled for 18 September.
A motive was not immediately clear. Chancellor Kevin M Guskiewicz said in a statement on Tuesday that he has met with the family of the slain assistant professor’s family.
“My leadership team and I have met with his colleagues and family to express our condolences on behalf of our campus,” the statement read. “Please join me in thinking and praying for his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”
According to his LinkedIn page, Mr Qi graduated from Wuhan University in 2015 and also received a master’s in material science from Lousiana State University in 2021.
Mr Qi then joined UNC at Chapel Hill’s Yan Lab in 2022, with his profile page on the university’s website taken down by Tuesday morning.
The suspect worked as a researcher in China before pursuing a doctoral career in America.
UNC graduate student Aiden Scott, a former classmate of Mr Qi, described him as “very quiet” but “nice.”
“I would have never guessed that he would be the kind of person who could possibly be capable of this kind of thing,” Mr Scott told WRAL. “Every single time he would talk to me, he seemed very nice... when I saw his face in the reports online, I was beyond shocked,”
A Twitter account believed to belong to Mr Qi reveals that he had railed against his work and his head of lab as well as what he described as “bullies” in the US before allegedly carrying out the shooting.
In a post on 1 August 2022, he wrote: “Bully in [A]merica seems to be a problem. It often comes with people not stopping them at the first time.
“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.”
UNC police had issued an alert about an active shooting situation at the campus shortly after 1pm on Monday, following reports of shots being fired in the science building.
Students were ordered to shelter in place and barricade themselves inside lecture halls amid the active situation.
Footage shared online shows desperate students and faculty members jumping from windows or hunkering down in classrooms as the UNC Police, FBI, ATF and SWAT teams canvassed the campus for the shooter.
Nearly an hour and a half into the ordeal, UNC police released a photo of a person of interest and asked the public to call 911 and proceed with caution if they spotted the individual. A name was not released but the photo released by authorities matched the one on Mr Qi’s UNC profile page.
Mr Qi was then arrested near a residential area two miles from campus on Williams Circle and the shelter-in-place order was lifted at around 4.30pm.
At a press conference later that evening, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and UNC Police Chief Brian James confirmed one faculty member had been killed.
The weapon used in the shooting was a 9mm, police said on Tuesday. An investigation into the circumstances and motive behind the shooting is ongoing.
“I’m grieved to report that one of our faculty members was killed in this shooting. This loss is devastating, and the shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted in our campus community,” Mr Guskiewicz said.
Mr Qi is being held by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Hillsborough County.