The University of North Carolina’s student newspaper front page has featured the dramatic text messages sent and received by students while they hunkered down in lecture halls and dorms as police hunted for a shooter.
Students and faculty members were in the dark for more than three hours as FBI, ATF, SWAT teams and university police searched for a gunman later identified as PhD student Tailei Qi.
The Daily Tar Heel’s powerful cover on Wednesday came together as the UNC at Chapel Hill continued to reel from the terrifying lockdown on Monday and the loss of assistant professor Zijie Yan.
The DTH’s print managing editor Caitlyn Yaede told The Independent that she had become emotional as she typed the heartwrenching messages on the front page.
“I’m in class, everyone is losing it,” “Are you safe? Where are you?” or “Come on sweetheart - I need to hear from you” were only a few of the dozens of texts included.
They were penned by distressed students barricading in classrooms or frantic parents trying to get ahold of them — the reflection of a harsh reality that is, unfortunately, too familiar for Americans.
“I’d like to say the first thing I did was jump on the breaking news story but the first thing I did was [also] calling my sister because she is a sophomore here at UNC and I had no idea where she was,” Ms Yaede said, adding that her sibling was eventually able to communicate with her and tell her she was sheltering in place in her dorm.
“One of the [messages] was, ‘I wish I could come and get you right now,” and my mom said that to me ... on Monday when this was happening and she was two hours away.”
Ms Yaede, a journalism graduate student at UNC, was at the Daily Tar Heel’s office when the alarm was first raised about the active shooting situation. From there, she and other students saw the heavy police presence rushing towards the Caudil Labs, where the shooting unfolded.
The front page of tomorrow's @dailytarheel –
I shed many tears while typing up these heart-wrenching text messages sent and received by UNC students yesterday. Our campus was on lockdown for more than three hours.
Beyond proud of this cover and the team behind it. pic.twitter.com/2gE51TrHZ8
— Caitlyn (she/her) (@caitlyn_yaede) August 30, 2023
Student editors and reporters across campus covered the active shooting situation as it happened, keeping students informed amid the uncertainty.
“I think any tragedy felt by any member of our community is a tragedy felt by all. Violence like this in any form makes us feel scared because we have seen it happen elsewhere and we don’t know if and when something with mass casualties could happen,” Ms Yaede told The Independent.
“All the anxiety and fear, we are not immune to it but we kind of tabled it for the first day or two as we worked to get the news out.”
Then on Tuesday, the Daily Tar Heel’s managing team asked their reporting team to gather messages sent or received during those moments of sheer fear.
“No matter how they communicated that, they were all sharing that fear and anxiety and I think [sharing] that experience really struck me. I hope that cover tells a story. It’s a story of not knowing what was happening and reaching out in the darkness.”
Tailei Qi, an applied sciences PhD student at UNC, has been charged with first-degree murder and possession of a weapon on academic premises in connection with the fatal shooting of his lab advisor Zijie Yan.
Mr Qi appeared in court on Tuesday and was ordered held without bail. The suspect had a Mandarin interpreter during his arraignment and was scheduled to reappear in court on 18 September.
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said on Tuesday that Yan left two young daughters behind and described the slain professor as a “beloved colleague and friend” who was fondly remembered by everyone who crossed paths with him.