Shootings mar start of academic year in US

Faculty member shot dead at UNC, gunman chased from Florida HBCU kills three black shoppers, student dies trying wrong house

August 29, 2023
A law enforcement officer stands in the middle of the 5100 block of E. 42nd Street in Odessa, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, following a shooting at random in the area of Odessa and Midland. Several people were dead after a gunman who hijacked a postal s
Source: iStock

Several US college campuses are reopening to bursts of gun violence, including a faculty member shot dead at the University of North Carolina and a mass killing just outside a historically black university in Florida.

The UNC faculty member, a native of China, was shot in a science building on the Chapel Hill campus and police later detained a graduate student from China who had written on social media about struggling with bullying and seeking friends.

In Florida, a gunman described by police as motivated by racial hatred killed three black people at a variety store in the city of Jacksonville. The president of nearby Edward Waters University, Zachary Faison, said the shooter had planned to attack his campus until deterred by students who saw him making preparations and alerted police.

Other incidents of gun violence marking the new school year include a University of South Carolina student shot dead as he mistakenly tried to enter the wrong home on his own street, and a person shot on the campus of the historically black North Carolina A&T State University.

UNC said it was cancelling classes for the first two days of the week in response to the killing of the faculty member, identified in reports as Zijie Yan, associate professor of applied physical sciences and faculty adviser to Tailei Qi, the suspect detained in the case.

“This shooting damages the trust and safety that we so often take for granted on our campus,” the chancellor of the UNC flagship campus, Kevin Guskiewicz, said in a message to the university community.

Mr Qi is a graduate student at the department of applied physical sciences with degrees from Wuhan University in China and Louisiana State University. He wrote in recent weeks on the Twitter platform that he “would like to make some new friends” and that “Bully in america seems to be a problem.”

At Edward Waters, students noticed a man in a library parking lot at midday on 26 August donning gloves and an armoured vest, and notified a security officer. The man fled as the officer approached. Moments later, police said, the man fatally shot three black people a half mile away at a Dollar General store, before killing himself.

Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, responded with a promise of $1 million (£800,000) in security assistance for Edward Waters. The 2024 US presidential candidate – who has weakened gun laws and criticised racial equity efforts in the state – was booed during a public announcement of the funding.

Edward Waters said the campus would be closed until later this week, although it attributed that decision to the imminent arrival of Hurricane Idalia.

The South Carolina case involved a 20-year-old sophomore from Connecticut who had apparently been shot in the chest in the early hours of 26 August after trying to enter the wrong house in Columbia. It’s among a series of such cases in the US of people being shot after making mistakes in approaching houses.

In the NC A&T State incident, a non-student was shot over the weekend near the rear of the student centre on campus. The weekend also included a non-fatal shooting just off the campus of Ferris State University in Michigan.

Firearm violence is a chronic problem in the US, a nation with more guns than people, nearly 50,000 guns deaths a year, and more than 400 mass shootings so far in 2023. Other recent cases include a student wrestler at Ohio State University, Sammy Sasso, whose family just announced that he will need extensive help to walk again after being shot in an apparent carjacking near the Ohio State campus earlier this month.

The University of Pittsburgh announced that it was installing “panic buttons” in many of its classrooms for the new semester that lock doors and alert police in the case of threats.

Students at Yale University, meanwhile, arrived on campus to find leaflets warning of rampant violent crime in the city of New Haven and wishing the freshmen “good luck” in surviving the year. The leaflets were created and distributed on behalf of the university’s police union as a tactic in ongoing contract negotiations.

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