On Wednesday, August 30 at 1:02 p.m., the Bell Tower at UNC-Chapel Hill chimed three times signifying the time of death of associate professor Zijie Yan, who was shot and killed on Monday afternoon in Caudill Labs. 

Hundreds of students wielding signs gathered at Polk Place for the This is Our Reality Rally — hosted by UNC Young Democrats, March for Our Lives and Students Demand Action — to honor Yan’s legacy and urge North Carolina and federal policymakers to pass more gun control legislation. 

“I am angry, I am pissed, and I’m disappointed because two days ago a gun was brought to our campus — one shot was fired, but an entire community was injured,” UNC March for Our Lives Vice President and junior Luke Diasio told the crowd. “More than 300,000 American students have been on a campus during a shooting since 1999, and two days ago, we were all forcibly added to that statistic.”

Wednesday’s rally was organized after UNC graduate student — now murder suspect — Tailei Qi allegedly shot and killed Yan, who was also Qi’s advisor. UNC is home to around 30,000 students, all of whom were locked in classrooms, lecture halls, bathroom stalls and dorm rooms for almost four hours with limited communication from administration or law enforcement during the shooting. 

Students were left traumatized, fearful and angry in the wake of Monday’s murder, which was captured in Wednesday’s front page of the Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student-run publication. Its front page was filled, top to bottom, with messages sent from students and faculty in lockdown on August 28. Some of the messages included:

  • “Guys I’m so f**king scared.”
  • “Can you hear any gunshots?”
  • “Are you safe, where are you?”
  • “I wish these never happened.”
  • “I’m scared, I’m so scared”
The front page of the Daily Tar Heel. | Twitter

Wednesday’s rally served as a platform for students, faculty and community members to come together and demand for change. There were multiple notable activists speaking at the event, including Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and March for Our Lives cofounder David Hogg.

“As a generation, we’ve been told to run, hide and fight, and it’s time for our generation to repurpose the meaning of that,” Hogg exclaimed to the crowd. “We need to run for office to replace and change our government. If they won’t change the gun laws here in North Carolina, it’s time to change the government.”

Parkland shooting survivor and gun reform activist David Hogg spoke to community members at UNC-Chapel Hill on August 30 after the murder of Zijie Yan on campus. | Staff photo by Taylor Heeden

Hogg talked to Qnotes in an exclusive interview after Wednesday’s event, where he talked about how LGBTQ+ people and people of color are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. He said queer women, specifically, have played a huge role in the work he’s done with March for Our Lives.

“If it wasn’t for queer women, March for Our Lives would not exist, period, and they’ve never gotten the credit that they deserve,” Hogg told Qnotes. “I think it’s important to state the fact that they’re almost always at the center of these movements and not to leave them out of that conversation.”

The Sandy Hook Promise nonprofit organization released a survey which showed queer identifying people are more than two times as likely to be a victim of gun violence. The statistics also showed one out of three trans youth are threatened or attacked with a weapon at school and almost 50 percent are bullied. 

North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Cooper also spoke to rally attendees Wednesday afternoon about how gun violence impacts marginalized North Carolinians, including LGBTQ+ residents. In a fiery and passionate speech, the 25 year-old called out North Carolina Republicans after the supermajority was able to pass SB 41, which repealed the Pistol Permit and made it easier for people to access firearms. 

“They’re offering thoughts and prayers when months ago, they repealed the pistol permit, allowing more guns in our streets, in our communities, on our campuses, and in places where guns have no right being,” Clayton said. “They’re attacking us, and instead of fixing problems like the one we’re seeing on UNC campus, and in Jacksonville right now, they are sitting there and persecuting our citizens by trying to say the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t exist on this campus. That’s not okay.”

Many students shared their experiences on Monday and beyond, including UNC sophomore Nancy Garcia Villa. The morning after Yan’s death, Garcia Villa woke up with an overwhelming sense of dread and loss. However, she knew it was important to continue to take care of her physical and mental health after those traumatic hours in lockdown.

She made her way to Lenoir Dining Hall and was instantly comforted when she saw her favorite Carolina Dining Services worker. When the two started talking about the previous day, Garcia Villa realized CDS staff — majority of which are people of color and/or low-income — were not made aware of the lockdown during the active shooting. 

Four UNC students hold corresponding signs during the This is Our Reality Rally on August 30. | Taylor Heeden

“I realized that I was the one that had to break the news to her about what happened here at UNC on Monday because no one cared to inform CDS workers or the janitors or the housekeepers of what had happened because their lives are not considered worth protecting,” she emotionally told attendees. “During that three hour lockdown CDs workers, our central employees were still working there still cleaning the hall, they were still serving food because UNC did not care to tell them that their lives were at risk.”

Senior Eszter Rimanyi, who has also been very involved in gun reform advocacy work, spoke to students Wednesday. She expressed her frustration with inaction on gun reform, stating she’d been fighting for legislation for over five years. 

“Since my high school walkout in 2018, I have protested at the local school district level and in DC. I dedicated one year under the pandemic to leading a virtual field office of Students Demand Action, and yet, five years later, in my last semester of college, I am walking out again to protest gun violence but now because of an incident on my own college campus,” she said. 

Rimanyi warned the crowd there would be a nationwide attempt to try to use Monday’s shooting as a way to divide communities. However, she said the Carolina family needs to stay united today and beyond.  

“They’re going to minimize our conversations and make us turn against each other, but we cannot allow it,” she said. “In those moments, I want you to remember the solidary we felt coming out of this traumatic event, and I want you to refrain from this division.”

Staff photo by Taylor Heeden

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