Students and University of North Carolina community members

Students and University of North Carolina community members are seen after a gunman killed a faculty member on August 29, 2023.

(Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

UNC Paper Fills Front Page With Text Messages Terrified Students, Families Sent During Shooting

"These students have lived their entire lives under threat of violent death and tragedy," said one observer.

"Are you safe? Where are you? Are you alone?

"Hey—come on sweetheart—I need to hear from you. Can you hear any gunshots?"

"Someone is already shot."

Those are just a few of the text messages published on the cover of Wednesday's print edition of The Daily Tar Heel, the student-run newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where editors drew from the cellphones of students who were on campus during a shooting that killed one faculty member on Monday.

Classes were canceled on Wednesday after Tailei Qi was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Zijie Yan, an associate professor in the applied physical sciences department.

The campus was locked down for several hours on Monday after Qi, a graduate student, shot Yan in a lab. Faculty, staff members, and students—including first-year students who had just arrived at UNC days before to begin their college education—were ordered to remain inside and away from windows as police warned there was an "armed and dangerous person on or near campus."

In a column in the Tar Heel on Tuesday, student and opinion columnist Georgia Roda-Moorhead described huddling with other students around her cell phone, waiting for updates while locked in the basement of a dorm as she recalled a similar scenario when she was in elementary school.

"My mind traveled back to fourth grade P.E. when the class troublemaker thought it would be funny to pull the active shooter alarm a couple months after Sandy Hook," Roda-Moorhead wrote. "Our teacher shoved us into the equipment closet and told us to stay silent. At age ten, I wrestled with the fact that I might face the same exact fate as those children who lived just a couple of states north of me... That incident might have been a false alarm, but what if this isn't?"

She added that when students first received the alert about the armed and dangerous suspect, one of Roda-Moorhead's classmates observed, "Just another day in America."

With more than 400 mass shootings recorded in the U.S. in 2023 so far, young people who were children 11 years ago when 20 first graders and six adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut are accustomed to the news of attacks at grocery stores, parades, concerts, and other public places.

"We are the Sandy Hook generation. We grew up crouching behind desks in pitch-black darkness, as our teachers barred the doors shut in case a 'scary person' stepped on campus," wrote Roda-Moorhead. "It is truly no wonder that my generation has become so desensitized to gun violence we make jokes about it."

"The people who say this is just another day in America are right," she added. "But does this have to be just another day?"

The Tar Heel's front page Wednesday displayed how despite the frequency of active shooter drills and news alerts about mass shootings, experiencing an attack firsthand is no less terrifying.

"Kudos to the student journalists at The Daily Tar Heel for rising to the moment," said political and media historian Brian Rosenwald. "This is a brilliant, poignant cover that exposes how utterly shameful it is that we persist in doing nothing about gun violence."

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