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911 caller immediately identified suspect in UNC shooting, audio reveals

RALEIGH, N.C. — Police in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where a professor was fatally shot on a college campus this week, received information on the suspect’s identity within minutes of the gunfire, according to a recording of the 911 call.

Some portions of the audio sound redacted, but what was released describes the first moments after Monday’s shooting of Associate Professor Zijie Yan inside a science building in the heart of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Police said they arrested Tailei Qi, 34, of Chapel Hill, without force off campus less than two hours after the shooting.

Tailei Qi makes his first appearance at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, N.C., on Tuesday.Hannah Schoenbaum / AP

Qi was charged early Tuesday with first-degree murder and a weapons count and jailed without bond. Yan was Qi’s faculty adviser and Qi worked with Yan’s research group.

The attack and hours-long lockdown terrified students and faculty who returned last week for the start of the fall semester. Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil honoring Yan on Wednesday. Classes resumed Thursday at the flagship campus.

UNC Police Chief Brian James said earlier this week that a 911 caller reported gunfire around 1 p.m. Monday at Caudill Labs, which was Yan’s primary work location. Qi was not at the building when officers arrived soon after, James said.

In the 4½-minute recording released on Thursday by UNC-Chapel Hill to The Associated Press, the distressed, unidentified caller could be heard telling others to “close the doors and stay inside. There’s an active shooter.”

“Do you have a description of him?” the emergency operator asks.

“I know exactly who it is,” the caller responds, spelling out Qi’s name. “And he has a gun and he’s on campus.”

The caller then described what the suspect was wearing and said “I saw him leaving the building” in the direction of another laboratory facility next door.

“You can look him up on our website,” the caller said. “You can see a picture right there of him.”

Police later released a photo of what they called a “person of interest.”

James said Qi left Caudill Labs quickly. Police haven’t said the suspect entered another building. Qi was ultimately picked up in a Chapel Hill neighborhood.

The AP sent an email requesting comment from his public defender Thursday.

In the moments after the shooting, the caller told the 911 operator “we need immediate help.”

“You need to lock the campus down. I see students walking past this building left and right.”

Emergency sirens began within minutes of the call, authorities said, and community members received written messages telling people to go inside because an “armed, dangerous person” was on or near campus.

“Ma’am, do not open the door unless there’s an officer there,” the operator told the caller.

The caller said she believed the suspect was carrying a “short” gun.

Qi’s arrest warrant accuses him of possessing a 9mm pistol unlawfully on campus. James said a weapon hasn’t been found and that it’s too early in the investigation to offer a motive.

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