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'He made me a better person' | UNC professor killed in campus shooting remembered by colleague

Dr. Zijie Yan moved to UNC in 2019, but he stayed in contact with his colleague from the University of Chicago.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — On Tuesday, we learned more about the victim, Zijie Yan and his relationship with the suspect Tailei Qi

Yan was the suspect's advisor, according to the UNC Chaple Hill website. 

University of Chicago professor Norbert Scherer was a friend and research partner of Yan's. Schere said Yan was a caring and understanding professor. 

"The respectful way and polite way he would interact was a great role model for everyone in my group I very much appreciated that," Scherer said. "He made me a better person."

The two did research on nanoscale objects, published articles and even worked on grants together for more than a decade. 

 "He was always calm and was quiet. He was often right when I made suggestions so it was a real respect going back and forth between the two of us. It was a real pleasure," Scherer said. 

Throughout Yan's time at the University of Chicago, Clarkson University and his move to UNC in 2019 they kept in touch. 

Schere said  Yan was a dedicated husband and father of two.  He said Yan moved to North Carolina so that his wife could pursue an opportunity in economics at UNC. 

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The last time they spoke was last month.

 "I was utterly shocked," Scherer said. 

It was through text that Norbert heard Yan's own student was suspected of killing him on campus. 

"He was a beloved colleague mentor and a friend to so many on our campus," said Kevin Guskiewicz UNC's chancellor. 

Yan had his own research group on campus as an associate professor in applied physical science. The student accused of killing him was part of that team.  

Just this month UNC posted an article on the research group where both Yan and his suspected killer are photographed together.  

"Are these the kinds of conflicts that can arise in research I would characterize it as exceedingly rare," Scherer  said. "Nothing in what happened is in any way excusable or explainable or forgivable.

"We've had the opportunity to meet with members of Dr. Yan's family and we're doing everything we can to express our condolences as they endure this terrible loss," Guskiewicz said. 

In honor of Dr. Yan UNC will ring the campus bell tower and have a moment of silence in his memory Wednesday.

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