UNC shooting suspect currently found unfit for trial in professor’s death

The man charged with killing his UNC professor has been found mentally ill and unfit to continue with court proceedings in the case.

Tailei Qi, 34, is accused of shooting Zijie Yan, a professor in UNC’s Department of Applied Physical Sciences, on Aug. 28. Qi was charged the next day with first-degree murder and misdemeanor possession of a firearm on educational property.

According to Orange County Superior Court Judge Alyson Grine, Qi demonstrated delusional thinking, experienced auditory hallucinations and paranoia, engaged in self-harm while in detention and showed behavior consistent with severe mental illness.

Two separate evaluations found Qi likely suffers from untreated schizophrenia rendering him unable to cooperate with his legal counsel..

Grine also ruled during a Monday hearing that Qi will be committed to Central Regional Hospital for mental health treatment. If his condition improves, doctors there must notify the district attorney so that court proceedings can progress.

Qi has been held in the Orange County jail without bail since his arrest.

An autopsy released in November showed Yan was shot multiple times in his office in Caudill Labs on campus. Nine 9mm cartridge casings were found in Yan’s office, police said.

The shooting prompted law enforcement to lock down the campus, local schools and the surrounding area for three hours. It was one of two lockdowns announced as UNC students started the 2023-24 school year.

Worked on same research team

Qi, who earned his undergraduate degree from Wuhan University in China and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University, started working in UNC’s Applied Physical Sciences department last year. He was on the same research team as Yan, and his social media posts showed he was frustrated with what appeared to be conflicts in the lab.

Students rallied after Yan’s death for local and state action to stem gun violence, while UNC faculty called for a mental health task force to help graduate students with mental health issues.

Yan’s former academic adviser at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute mentioned in a Facebook post that Yan was having problems with one of his graduate students and had told department officials about the student’s mental health problems, The News & Observer previously reported.

UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz also called for more action, including training for all faculty and staff in how to handle active shooter situations on campus. UNC does not require such training, although a 2020 audit recommended it, The N&O reported.

UNC Police Chief Brian James has said license plate readers and more surveillance cameras will be installed on campus.

State lawmakers have not acted in response to Yan’s shooting or the second incident involving a gun on campus, despite a Sept. 12 protest in Raleigh that packed a House gallery with UNC and N.C. A&T State University students and a rally on the legislative building’s lawn.

9mm handgun used in shooting

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials have not said how Qi obtained the 9mm handgun used in the shooting. The gun has not been recovered.

Qi was in the United States on a student visa, which would not have qualified him to legally purchase or possess firearms, Orange County District Attorney Jeff Nieman has said.

Federal law makes some exceptions, however, including for someone with a valid hunting license or permit. A foreign national who violates the law — and anyone who knowingly sells or gives that person a firearm — can be charged with a felony under federal law.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood told The N&O that Qi did not apply for a permit to buy a firearm before the state removed that requirement in March and also had not applied for a concealed carry permit.

Staff writers Dan Kane, Josh Shaffer and Korie Dean contributed to this report.