CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- University of North Carolina graduate student Tailei Qi is charged with killing his academic group leader inside a laboratory on campus.
Tailei Qi made his first court appearance Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Orange County. The judge and attorneys conducted the routine appearance with an interpreter translating for Tailei Qi.
The judge formally told Tailei Qi he faced a first-degree murder charge and a charge for having a gun on educational property. UNC Police Chief Brian James said during an afternoon press conference that both charges were felonies and that more charges could be filed in the future.
The murder charge carries with it the possibility of the death penalty. However, District Attorney Jeff Nieman said his office would not be seeking the death penalty, as he made a campaign promise against the death penalty.
The shooting at Caudill Laboratories on Monday around 1 p.m. sent the UNC campus into an hours-long lockdown.
James said Tailei Qi walked into Caudill Labs directly to his academic advisor Zijie Yan, shot him, and then walked out and left campus. James said his officers were at the scene of the shooting within minutes, but Tailei Qi was already gone. Other students and staff members were inside the building, but it is unclear if anyone else was in the room when the shooting happened.
Officers found him about 1.5 hours later in a neighborhood on Williams Circle, north of UNC's campus.
Tailei Qi's vehicle was found parked on campus. The FBI has impounded it and is now processing it for evidence. The 9mm handgun used in the deadly shooting has not been found.
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James said although Tailei Qi and Zijie Yan knew each other, the motive behind the shooting remains unknown.
James confirmed that more officers will be present on campus in the coming days and weeks. He said the officers would be there "to provide reassurance to our campus community."
According to UNC, Zijie Yan was an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences. He specialized in optical trapping and manipulation, holography, microfluidics, and electronic and photonics nanomaterials.
"The Carolina community is mourning the loss of Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences who was killed in yesterday's on-campus shooting. Yan worked for the University since 2019. The University is in contact with Yan's family and is providing resources and support," the university said in a statement.
Tailei Qi will remain in jail without bond until his next court appearance, which was scheduled for Sept. 18.
Nieman said he couldn't provide updates on the investigation Tuesday, but said if that hearing were to proceed as planned, it would be an opportunity for his office to present their findings publicly for the first time.
"If a probable cause hearing is held on the 18th, that would be a form of a mini-trial where we would present at least some version of the evidence at that stage, and the judge would determine if there's probable cause," Nieman said.
Nieman declined to provide an update on a possible motive, search for the murder weapon, or if any additional charges would be filed, though he did say he hopes to comment in the near future.
"There's nothing that's a higher priority than protecting the integrity of this prosecution, and there are very important ethics rules about what a prosecutor is allowed to say, and they're there for good reason, and I need to abide by those, and so it is not because I'm trying to be cagey with you all, it's just the last thing I would want to do is say anything that would jeopardize the prosecution of any case," Nieman said.
Information on UNC RESOURCES here