Graduate student charged in shooting death of North Carolina professor

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) -A University of North Carolina graduate student has been charged in the fatal shooting on Monday of a professor, an incident that prompted an hours-long lockdown at the school's Chapel Hill campus.

Court records show Tailei Qi, age 34 according to media reports, was charged with first-degree murder and carrying a gun on an educational campus in the killing of Zijie Yan, an associate professor in applied physical sciences at the school since 2019.

Yan was the father of two young children and a beloved colleague, mentor and friend to many on campus, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

A university website showed Qi was a doctoral student who had joined Yan's research group in January 2022.

Campus police Chief Brian James said on Tuesday no motive had been determined for the shooting.

Qi drove to campus on Monday and went directly to Yan's research lab, James said. Qi was gone by the time police arrived minutes after the shooting was reported at 1:02 p.m. local time.

His car was found on campus, but he was arrested by city police near his home in Chapel Hill about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from campus, James said.

Qi made his first court appearance on Tuesday, James said.

Reports of shots fired led to a lockdown at the school, which has a student population of about 32,000, along with about 4,100 faculty and 9,000 staff members.

Public schools nearby also were locked down on their first day of class after summer break.

On Tuesday, the university said it had set up a hotline for students and faculty who needed to talk about the incident as well as those who need other counseling services.

"We know that the wounds of this tragedy will not heal quickly," Guskiewicz said in an email announcing Yan's death to the campus community.

He said the university would ring the campus bell tower and hold a moment of silence on Wednesday afternoon in Yan's honor.

(Reporting by Sharon BernsteinEditing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)