University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill senior Ava Dobson was in her noon Foundations of Interactive Media class in a basement classroom when the university sirens first sounded. From the basement, her class couldn’t hear them, instead learning of the threat through the alert system on university computers and speakers.
“That was one of the most traumatizing parts,” Dobson said of the robotic voice warning her about the armed and dangerous person on campus. “It was horrifying, really.”
Graduate student Tailei Qi has been charged with first-degree murder without bond after his academic adviser Zijie Yan was shot around 1 p.m. Aug. 28 in the Caudill Labs. Yan was an associate professor in the UNC Department of Applied Physical Sciences. Qi was working with Yan’s research group, and Yan was listed as his adviser.
The university sirens sounded and an alert went out to students at 1:03 p.m., causing a university-wide lockdown for over three hours that ended at 4:14 p.m.
Dobson said she was in the classroom for four hours and said it was hard to wait for reliable information while sheltering in place.
“That was the most nerve-wracking part,” Dobson said. “It was pretty scary — just the initial hour — because there was so little was known about what exactly was going on. And then you have a lot of different information coming from different people, different sources, and people texting their friends.”
Jack Baddour, a senior at Chapel Hill who transferred from Elon University in 2021, said he had friends and co-workers who were sheltering in place.
“You can only learn so much from your friends and your classmates because they are in those rooms. … They’re there. They’re there living it,” Baddour said. “It’s hard to hit those messages because you want to be there. You want to be there by their side. You want to make sure they get out there safe, but you can’t, you can’t be there. And so we’re just kind of in a little bit of a stalemate waiting to hear what the big news is like, what the truth is, what’s going to happen.”
Baddour said his roommates and him are staying up-to-date through the Alert Carolina system, friends on campus and the news.
“And really to be honest, we just turned on the news. Other than any special information on Alert Carolina, we’re just getting straight up what everyone else is getting on the news,” Baddour said. “We’re so connected here at Carolina that I’ve got friends and got classmates and in these classes that are right around where everything’s happening.”
Dobson said during the shooting, there was a lot of misinformation because the university did not communicate exact details with students. She said one person in a friend’s class claimed there were three shooters on campus.
“Some of us were assuming we’re talking like a mass shooting level within that first hour, just because there’s so much misinformation and everyone’s saying different things,” Dobson said. “Some people were saying there are six people dead and crazy stuff.”
Dobson said though students received alerts through text and email, the university did not communicate sufficiently.
“It was more during the actual four hours when we were on lockdown — that was when it was a little frustrating because there was just a lack of information,” Dobson said. “Everyone was in the dark.”
Elon University Police Chief Joe LeMire said with the limited information that has come out so far, he felt Chapel Hill handled the situation correctly and understood why students would look to social media to know what’s going on, but said the only source people should trust is the university.
“You can pay attention to social media, but always know that the most direct and correct information is going to come from the people that are actually handling the incident and they’re going to get it out in the manner as they decide it is safe to do so, proper to do so, properly identified, that type of stuff,” LeMire said.
This is only the second week of classes at Chapel Hill. Gov. Roy Cooper wrote a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, expressing his support for UNC, Chapel Hill.
“This is a tragic way to start a new semester and the state will provide any assistance necessary to support the UNC community,” Cooper wrote.
Chapel Hill canceled classes and non-mandatory operations for Aug. 29 and is offering support resources to the community, as is Elon.
In an email from Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley on Aug. 29, he advised students to update their contact information, download the RAVE Guardian Safety App, report suspicious activity, review how to respond to campus emergencies and watch the active shooter training video on the Elon campus police website.
LeMire said campus police host active shooter training for student groups upon request and can cater to specific areas of campus.
“We’re happy to work with any student group, any area of campus,” LeMire said. “We do active shooter training as far as civilian response to it if something happened and we talk about prevention, keeping yourself safe, how to respond.”
Anyone interested in campus police active shooting training can contact Sgt. Joe Thomas.
Madison Powers and Mason Willett contributed to the reporting of this story.