University of North Carolina shooting suspect found unfit for trial, sent to mental health facility

Law enforcement respond to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus in Chapel Hill, N.C., Aug. 28, 2023, after the university locked down and warned of an armed person on campus. Tailei Qi, a graduate student at the school charged with fatally shooting his faculty adviser, has been found unfit for trial after two mental evaluations, a judge ruled Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum, File)

RALEIGH — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate student charged with fatally shooting his faculty adviser has been found unfit for trial after two mental evaluations, a judge ruled Monday.
Tailei Qi, 34, is accused of killing associate professor Zijie Yan in a science building at the state’s flagship public university on Aug. 28. He is being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder and misdemeanor possession of a firearm on educational property.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Alyson Grine said Monday that two separate mental evaluations found Qi likely suffers from untreated schizophrenia.
“Qi demonstrated delusional thinking, experienced auditory hallucinations, engaged in self-harm in the detention center, showed fragmented thought processes that impeded his communication,” she said.

Severe mental illness has rendered him unable to comprehend his situation, assist in his legal defense and understand court proceedings, even with a Mandarin interpreter present, Grine said. She ruled Monday that Qi will be committed to Central Regional Hospital in Butner for psychological treatment. Doctors will be required to notify the Orange County district attorney if his condition improves.

An hourslong campus lockdown and police manhunt that resulted in Qi’s arrest frightened students and faculty who had just returned to campus for the start of the fall semester. Chapel Hill police arrested Qi without force in a residential neighborhood near campus within two hours of the attack, UNC Police Chief Brian James said.

The campus locked down again two weeks later after police received a 911 call that someone had brandished a weapon in the student union.

An autopsy released earlier this month showed that Yan had been shot multiple times in his office in Caudill Labs. Police found nine 9mm cartridge casings scattered around his office, but they have not recovered the handgun used in the shooting. Prosecutors and police have not said how Qi — who was in the United States on a student visa and would not have qualified to purchase a firearm legally — obtained the gun.

Yan was an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences who had worked for the university since July 2019. He led the Yan Research Group, which Qi joined last year, according to the group’s UNC webpage. Students held a candlelit vigil for Yan and rallied for gun control measures after his death.