'One life lost is too much': Asian Americans hold vigil to honor late UNC professor Dr. Zijie Yan

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Wednesday, September 6, 2023
'1 life lost is too much': Asian Americans honor fallen UNC professor
A candlelight vigil brought together people in memory of the promising young UNC scientist gunned down inside a classroom last week.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A candlelight vigil brought together people in memory of the promising young UNC scientist gunned down inside a classroom last week.

Dr. Zijie Yan was a husband and devoted father of two. He lived in Apex and has family in western Wake County. Yan worked as an associate professor at the University of North Carolina. One of his students is accused of killing him on Aug. 28 inside Caudill Laboratories.

NC House Rep. Ya Liu, the Chinese American Friends Association of North Carolina and North Carolina Asian Americans Together hosted the candlelight vigil in honor of Yan.

It was held Tuesday night at the Cary Arts Center.

Organizers said the vigil was a chance for community members and public officials to come together and honor Yan's legacy and support area Asian American communities.

Liu said he didn't know Yan but had gotten to know his family after the shooting.

"No child should ever experience that. No elderly parents should ever bury their child, who died from gun violence," Liu said. "We wanted to honor him right here. So to show support. Important for community to come together to heal together. This shouldn't happen, one life lost is just too much."

Chavi Khanna Koneru is with NC Asian Americans Together.

"It's important for us to step up and speak up against that hate to support our community if they're in fear or in grief," Koneru said. "Many of us are parents, many of us are part of the local Asian American community so this couldn't hit closer to home. There's collective grief in the communities so it's critical we have this space to honor him and support our fellow community members."

Jimmy Patel-Nguyen, also of NC Asian Americans Together, added: "Showing the community is an example of the community's resilience and unity during this tragic event. It didn't happen to me personally but it happened to our community and we have to be here for each other when these moments happen."

Yan, who came to UNC in 2019, was a father of two girls, ages 7 and 2, 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 was indicted on charges of first-degree murder and discharging a weapon 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.

"Zijie was a wonderful human being. And I also know his family, so as a father as well. I start with that because it was indicative of how he interacted with people," said Dr. Norbert Scherer, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago, where Zijie underwent his postdoctoral training.

Yan earned multiple degrees at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China before coming to the United States, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2011 at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York. In a Facebook post shared with the university's Material Sciences and Engineering Community, Department Head Professor Pawel Keblinski wrote in part: "He is remembered fondly by many of us that met him in the classroom, lab, or in the hallway of MRC. Among other things, he distinguished himself (by) publishing 17 journal articles in the course of his Ph.D. study."

After Rensselaer, he went to the University of Chicago, where he quickly earned the respect of colleagues.

"Zijie absolutely as a young scientist was certainly on a great trajectory to become a dominant person in his field," said Scherer.

Qi's next court date is set for October.