Wuhan marked on a map with red pin

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‘This feels like aborted espionage’: UNC’s COVID-19 research becomes flashpoint after on-campus shooter revealed to have studied in Wuhan

The conspiracies appear to be quite the reach.


Katherine Huggins


Right-wing social media users are floating COVID-19 conspiracy theories in the wake of the shooting at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The gunman killed one faculty member on Monday and is currently in custody.

UNC Police Chief Brian James said Monday it was too early to know the motive for the shooting.

But as authorities work to determine a possible motive, right-wing internet sleuths and conspiracy theorists have come up with one of their own.

“The UNC shooter came from Wuhan,” wrote a libertarian commentator along with a screenshot allegedly showing the shooter’s LinkedIn page. “I’m sorry but I just don’t believe in chance occurrence anymore. This feels like aborted espionage.”

“Isn’t it crazy that the shooter educated in Wuhan ended up killing a staff member at UNC chapel hill where there is a high security biolab that Dr. Francis Boyle claimed created COVID-19 in an interview on infowars in February of 2020? What a wild coincidence,” posted another user.

“This is not a coincidence,” opined another person, citing “the long history between UNC Chapel Hill and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

“The CCP attacked UNC today,” alleged someone else.

The Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the UNC School of Medicine has been heavily involved in COVID-19 clinical research, however, neither the gunman nor the victim appear to have ties to it.

UNC officials said they’ve been beset by conspiratorial claims ever since the beginning of the pandemic. UNC collaborated with Wuhan in 2015 on a study of bat coronaviruses.

The gunman reportedly studied physics, and the victim—associate professor Zije Yan—worked in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences. According to WRAL, Yan was the academic advisor of the suspect, Tailei Qi. Yan also studied in Wuhan, at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, according to a UNC web page.

It’s unclear if Qi is from Wuhan or merely lived there at some point.

And others on social media were quick to push back against the conspiracy theories.

“Wuhan is one of the largest research universities in China and the kind of research he does (photonics) has no relation to virology,” wrote one user. “It’s not even coincidence it’s just commonplace. Blue check brain disease.”


“The way Westerners talk about Wuhan you would think it was just a place where a disease happened and not a city with a population 40% bigger than New York City,” wrote another person.

Someone else noted that “Wuhan is home to 35 institutes of higher education, more than anywhere else in China,” so “odds are that anyone here on a student visa from China studied in Wuhan.”

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