CHAPEL HILL — A University of North Carolina faculty member was shot and killed in a campus building, officials said Monday.
A suspect was arrested about an hour and a half after shots were reported, UNC Police Chief Brian James said at a news conference. Students and faculty at the flagship campus had barricaded themselves in dorm rooms, offices and classrooms for hours until a lockdown was lifted.
“This loss is devastating and the shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted in our campus community,” UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said. He apologized to students who are “feeling uncertain about your safety right now.”
Authorities are not releasing the suspect’s name and formal charges have not yet been filed, James said. It’s unclear if the suspect knew the victim, who police have not yet named while they reach out to relatives, James said.
The shooting was in Caudill Laboratories, which is closed while evidence is processed, James said. He said a motive isn’t known and the weapon has not been found.
UNC campus police released an image of a person of interest at 2:35 p.m.
This photo shows a person of interest in today’s armed and dangerous person situation. If you see this person, keep your distance, put your safety first and call 911. pic.twitter.com/NHG5CTjby4
— UNC Police (@UNCPolice) August 28, 2023
The same photo is used both on a web page for UNC’s applied physical science program and on a LinkedIn profile for UNC graduate student Tailei Qi. Several of the applied physical science faculty have offices in Caudill. The LinkedIn profile says he has been a graduate student and research assistant at UNC since January 2022 and lists an undergraduate degree from China’s Wuhan University and a master’s degree from Louisiana State.
Emergency sirens sounded about two minutes after a 911 call came in reporting shots fired, James said.
There were no other deaths or injuries, James said.
About three hours after warning students to seek shelter indoors and avoid windows, the school posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, “All clear. All clear. Resume normal activities.”
The school’s first alert was sent out just after 1 p.m. At 1:50 p.m., officials posted on X that the shelter-in-place order remained in effect and that it was “an ongoing situation.” About 40 minutes later, the school added a post saying: “Remain sheltered in place. This is an ongoing situation. Suspect at large.”
About two hours after the first alert went out, officers were still arriving in droves, with about 50 police vehicles at the scene and multiple helicopters circling over the school.
One officer admonished two people who tried to exit the student center, yelling “Inside, now!” About 10 minutes later, law enforcement escorted a group of students out of one of the science buildings, with everyone walking in an orderly line with their hands up.
Shortly before 4 p.m., students and faculty started emerging from campus buildings, with the lockdown over.
The report of the shooting and subsequent lockdown paralyzed campus and parts of the surrounding town of Chapel Hill a week after classes began at the state’s flagship public university. The university, with about 20,000 undergraduate students and 12,000 graduate students, canceled Tuesday classes.
During the lockdown, a student told TV station WTVD that she had barricaded her dormitory door with her furniture. Another student, speaking softly, described hiding in fear with others in a dark bathroom.
Adrian Lanier, a sophomore computer science major, told The Associated Press that he and others sat against a wall, trying to stay as far away as possible from doors and windows. They waited for hours as rumors spread.
“No one really felt safe enough to leave. I didn’t,” Lanier said.
Oliver Katz, an exchange student from Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, said some students crowded into gym locker rooms to get away from windows while others crouched in corners and sat on the floor, he said. Police evacuated them hours later.
“This never happens where I’m from,” Katz said. “It was intense. But I was a little surprised that other people weren’t panicking that much.”
Katz, who has only been on campus for two weeks, said he’s worried his home university will bring the exchange students home early. “I don’t want to leave. I like it here, and I do still feel safe.”
Noel T. Brewer, a professor of health behavior, told the AP by phone during the lockdown that he was once held at gunpoint in his mother’s jewelry store, but that Monday’s events were “far more stressful.”
Speaking from his locked office where he hid with other colleagues, Brewer, a 57-year-old married father of two, said he was getting little information.
He also said he felt for anyone who might have been shot.
“But even in our own building, the students who are locked down and what they’re thinking about — it’s just a lot. It’s a terrible situation,” said Brewer.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school district also locked down its schools for several hours as a precaution.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.