Like many of you, I’ve been unable to stop thinking about the deadly violence on UNC’s campus this week. “We’re all Tar Heels” is a bit of a cliche, but it’s also true around here–a majority of Assembly staffers have deep UNC connections, and had loved ones caught up in the chaos and confusion on Monday. 

We’ve learned a few things since those first hours. We know now that the victim was Zijie Yan, an applied physical sciences professor whom colleagues described as an extraordinary researcher and “borderline genius.” He leaves behind two daughters.

We’ve learned that the alleged shooter is Tailei Qi, a 34-year-old doctoral student who worked under Yan. Qi was arraigned on first-degree murder and possession of a firearm on educational property charges on Tuesday. 

While the last two days have brought some clarity, what we’ve learned has raised a lot of questions. Here are mine.

Where is the gun? Police have not yet located the weapon–not in Caudill Labs, where the shooting took place, nor on campus, nor anywhere between campus and the residential neighborhood where Qi was arrested. 

How did he get the gun? The missing weapon makes it harder to discern how he came into its possession in the first place. There are restrictions on foreign nationals purchasing guns; it’s unclear if the gun was legally or illegally acquired. 

How did the shooter get across town? Qi “went directly to the victim and then left Caudill Labs” at around 1 p.m., UNC Police Chief Brian James said in yesterday’s press conference. But what happened after that? Qi’s car was still on campus, and the neighborhood where he was arrested at 2:31 p.m. is nearly two miles away. And the campus remained on lockdown until nearly 4 p.m., suggesting there was still concern that the situation was not fully under control.

Why was someone else arrested first? Campus police also confirmed that someone else was first detained based on “a description we were given of the suspect and that person being in close proximity of the incident.” The clear suggestion is that another young man–likely Asian–was first taken into custody. And as the astute student journalists at The Daily Tar Heel note, James had to be pointedly asked to clarify that it even happened.  

What training is enough? Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz touted the efficacy of the “emergency action plan with an active shooter protocol that’s practiced regularly” in Monday’s press conference. I’ve taught at UNC for six years and received only the lightest of training regarding active shooter situations, and that was years ago. Numerous other faculty have said the same, and students have posted accounts of classrooms where faculty were unclear about what to do, or seemed to ignore the emergency alerts. 

What resources were available to Prof. Yan? Yan’s former adviser, Doug Chrisey, told the Albany Times Union that Yan had expressed concern about Qi in their last conversation–that “one of his graduate students had a mental health problem causing delusions and he hoped he could graduate quickly and remain stable.” “He let his department know of the situation,” Chrisey said. If that is the case, it’s unclear what was done to intervene. Faculty become the frontline in addressing student mental health concerns, often with little training or support.

What resources were available to the shooter? Qi left behind a trail of concerning social media messages showing a man who was isolated and angry. Campus mental health resources have been strained, particularly in the last few years. International students are at particular risk due to cultural and language barriers, less familiarity with the American medical system, and higher burdens of discrimination and isolation.

These answers won’t be immediate, and some may be difficult. But we can’t let them go unaddressed.

Kate Sheppard is The Assembly’s managing editor. She was previously a senior enterprise and national editor at HuffPost and has covered environment, health, and labor for Mother Jones, Grist, and The American Prospect. Email her at