Days after his death, UNC Bell Tower rings in memory of Dr. Zijie Yan

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Thursday, August 31, 2023
Days after his death UNC Bell Tower rings in memory of Dr. Zijie Yan
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For whom the bell tolls: UNC Chapel Hill Bell Tower rings to remember faculty member Dr. Zijie Yan killed by Tailei Qi in Caudill Laboratories

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- On a campus that is often bustling and full of energy, hundreds of people stopped in silence early Wednesday afternoon to hear the bells chime three times in memory of Dr. Zijie Yan, an associate professor who was shot and killed Monday.

The ringing took place at 1:02, coinciding with the time of the shooting inside Caudill Labs.

Yan, who came to UNC in 2019, was a father of two who led his own research group at the school. The suspect, Tailei Qi, is a graduate student who was a member of Yan's research group. Qi appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, where he faces charges of first-degree murder and having a gun on educational property.

Prior to UNC, Yan was a faculty member at Clarkson University in New York and underwent postdoctoral training at the University of Chicago. He earned his Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, where a professor warmly recalled Yan.

"Zijie was a brilliant student, easy-going and always with a big smile, and he had grown into a rising star in his field at UNC. It is such a tragedy for his family, and a huge loss for the materials research community," said Dr. Yunfeng Shi, professor of materials science and engineering at RPI.

Colleagues have spoken highly of Yan, a father of two, who is being remembered for his kindness and contributions across several fields.

"It's our sad reality."

The moment of silence served as the beginning of a rally outside the South Building, led by several organizations, including Everytown for Gun Safety, in which speakers called for action to be taken to curb gun violence.

"(I attended) to show solidarity with the people who were on campus, and our community and are going through something we shouldn't have to live through. It's sad probably nothing is going to change, but I think standing here gives me some sense of agency that I at least tried to show my voice and make it known that we want something to change," said Ciera Thomas, a UNC graduate student.

Micah Baldonado, a senior, urged the university to clarify its emergency communications. During the event, he held up a sign with a QR code for a petition.

"I was in tears as 20-30 minutes passed hearing alerts of a school shooter, my professor continued to teach, as did many other professors, even past class time, teachers continued to teach, which is why UNC Chapel Hill is in need of a clear university-wide procedure for dealing with active shooters on campus," said Baldonado.

The rally lasted just over an hour and featured students, advocates, and politicians.

"It's our sad reality that we now have to second-guess our steps and count our blessings. I shouldn't have to worry if my friends were able to run and find shelter, or if they were able to barricade the doors to their classrooms. I should be in class, safe, and getting the education I fought for. But instead, I am forced to get my education with anxieties I would never force upon anyone," said Megan Chen, a student who is the President of the UNC Chapter of March for Our Lives.

On Wednesday night, there was a candlelight vigil held inside the Dean E. Smith Center on campus. Thousands attended the event.