Tailei Qi, 34, is being held without bond for first-degree murder and possession of a firearm at a school facility in connection with the shooting death of associate professor Zijie Yan inside a science building.
Baldonado spent hours listening to the police scanner and reading news reports from his locked classroom, during what he calls an information vacuum. He is one of many students who are critical of the school staff’s communication, preparation and response.
The biomedical engineering student has unfurled a campus bulletin board, gathering hundreds of signatures on his petition demanding substantial and immediate improvements to the active shooter response protocol that university leaders consider a success.
Thanks to protocol, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said, “this situation went as smoothly as we could have asked for.”
Most classrooms and auditoriums display a QR code for easy access to emergency instructions and all staff and resident advisers hold regular drills, the Chancellor explained at a press conference.
Despite the university’s confidence in its response, students say their teachers seemed unprepared and many were even more panicked in the absence of detailed information.
UNC Police Chief Brian James said a mass electronic alert and siren alerted the campus to the emergency two minutes after a 911 call about shots fired inside Caudill Laboratories at 1:02 p.m. Qi was in custody at 2:31 p.m., James said.
The campus alert system, however, sent an update at 3:43 p.m. saying the suspect was still at large. At the time of this alert, police were still working to confirm they had the correct suspect in custody and that there was no accomplice, James said.
An Associated Press reporter who was on campus during the lockdown observed hundreds of confused students being evacuated from buildings without receiving clear instructions before an “all clear” message at 4:14 p.m. was sent. Many were crying and calling their parents from the sidewalks, not knowing where to go.
As law enforcement swept through his building, Baldonado said he and his classmates asked a police officer to slip a badge under the door “because we didn’t know if there was a real police officer there. the other end of the line”. He was evacuated before the clear message and a university administrator told him to walk to Franklin Street, an area of restaurants and shops, not knowing if the shooter had been arrested, he said.
“We were all out in the open and getting shot at,” Baldonado said. “That’s how we felt because we had no security or information.”
The final message was: “Resume normal activities”. UNC did not publicly confirm that police had a suspect in custody until a 5:20 p.m. news release.
Liana Evelyn, a contemporary European studies student, found it “insensitive” to be told to get on with her day after a fatal shooting.
The freshman was sitting on the steps of the journalism school when the first alarm sounded. “It felt like ‘The Purge,'” she recalled.
Someone dragged her inside the building, which was so full of students in shelters that she spent the first hour of confinement in an open hallway lined with windows before retreating deeper into the building. Several doors were not closing, she said.
Evelyn frantically scrolled through Yik Yak, a social networking app known for spreading gossip that provides anonymous messages within an 8km radius. The faculty could offer no information, she said.
The dean’s assistant asked them to leave the building before the alert message and the assistant could not tell them where to go, Evelyn said.
Rick Amweg, of Ohio-based Security Risk Management Consultants, which works with K-12 and college campuses on safety and security, praised how UNC police communicated with students and staff, including information provided and timing.
“They got their first notification very quickly,” Amweg said. “It’s key to maintaining a safe campus.”
Although campus police didn’t announce the go-ahead until more than 90 minutes after Qi’s arrest, releasing incomplete information about the suspect’s arrest while authorities were still unsure everything was under control could have been more dangerous, he said.
Baldonado’s petition demands the lockdown of all classrooms, better teacher training and improvements to the alert system, arguing that the alerts were quick but so vague that misinformation proliferated. It states that “specific and precise details of active threats, particularly shooters – including their number, location and direction of movement – are crucial”.
Amweg said campus police appear to have rightly withheld information about the rapidly evolving situation until they were sure it was contained and details were verified.
“Keep in mind this is an active and ongoing event, so things are happening very quickly,” he said.