(ECNS) - The tragic shooting at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina (UNC) on Monday resulted in the death of a faculty member and triggered heated debate online as the suspect was confirmed. Yet the motive behind the crime remains unclear, with formal charges pending and investigations underway.
Yan Zijie, a 38-year-old associate professor at UNC, was identified as the victim in Monday’s shooting at Caudill Laboratories in arrest warrants filed in Hillsborough, where his graduate student Qi Tailei is being held on charges of first-degree murder.
An unsettling contrast arises from their joint scholarly accomplishment, as Yan and Qi co-authored a pioneering paper on optical bonding just this July.
Yan's professional journey was marked by significant achievements. He graduated at the tender age of 21 with dual bachelor's degrees in computer science and materials engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 2005.
After obtaining a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Europe in 2007, he went on to complete his Ph.D. in 2011, during which he published 17 research papers. He pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago from 2011 to 2015.
In 2015, he became an assistant professor at Clarkson University in New York before joining UNC in 2019 as an associate professor, specializing in optics and nanomaterials.
He was widely regarded as a dedicated and promising scholar, living with two young children in Apex, North Carolina.
Although merely a few years junior to Yan, Qi had a history of academic excellence too. He appeared in local media reports in Henan Province in 2010 when he and his younger brother both scored 624 points in their college entrance exams.
Qi was admitted to the School of Physics Science and Technology at Wuhan University. The report highlighted his determination to pursue education despite the financial hardships faced by his family.
After completing his undergraduate studies, Qi pursued further education abroad and obtained a master's degree in materials science and engineering from Louisiana State University.
Qi joined the Applied Physics Department research group at UNC Chapel Hill as a second-year doctoral student in January2022, focusing on nanomaterial synthesis and analysis.
Following the shooting, a journalist from China reached out to Wang, an uncle from Qi Tailei's hometown. In their conversations, Wang conveyed that both of his parents had passed away. He added that during that time, only his younger brother returned to their hometown.
“He had never returned to the village since he set foot in the U.S.,” Wang said.
Details from Qi's social media activity suggest a complex personality. He frequently shared images of his culinary creations, displaying his enthusiasm for cooking. However, his posts also revealed his struggles with his research and feelings of isolation. His final social media post on Aug.1 pondered over postdoctoral positions and the nature of truth.
Observers have noted that his social media activity exhibited some dissatisfaction with his advisor but lacked substantial evidence of wrongdoing. It is suggested that his introverted nature, combined with pressures from academic and personal challenges, might have contributed to his emotional struggles.
Commentaries stemming from this tragedy shed light on the importance of mental health and the need for adequate support systems within academic environments, especially for international students facing cultural and academic pressures. It also underscores the significance of effective communication and understanding between advisors and students to foster a healthy academic environment.