Professor Feng Liu
It was a brutal killing that rocked the sleepy Chapel Hill neighborhood.
When Professor Feng Liu was found beaten and left for dead on West University Drive last month, hundreds of community members said they were sad, shaken and scared.
“It’s clear that this is not just a loss for the school or the university, this is a loss for the community,” said Bob Blouin, dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, where Liu worked.
“The community very much feels like they are apart of the grief.”
Liu was on his daily afternoon walk through Chapel Hill’s Westwood neighborhood on July 23 when he was robbed and badly beaten between 1:10 p.m. and 1:20 p.m., according to Chapel Hill police. He was taken to UNC Hospitals where he died from his injuries.
“He was, like many of us, a creature of habit, and one of his favorite things to do was to walk,” Blouin said. “He had a routine where he had a homemade lunch, ate it, and then proceeded on a very pleasant walk through the neighborhood that is across the street from the university.”
Police have arrested and charged Durham resident Derick Davis II, 23, and Chapel Hill resident Troy Arrington Jr., 27, with first degree murder.
Both are being held in Orange County jail. The investigation is still ongoing and receiving the results from the medical examiner could take up to six months, according to Lt. Josh Mecimore, a spokesman for Chapel Hill Police.
A night to remember
Hundreds of community members gathered in Memorial Hall Saturday to remember Liu, a world-renowned scientist who was working on developing drugs to cure cancer.
“The way Dr. Liu lived his life — joyfully, selflessly, playfully and in pursuit of knowledge to improve the lives of other people — is exactly what we all aspire to do,” said Chancellor Carol Folt.
The memorial service was held to try to look past the circumstances of his violent death.
“He did not harbor any hate or anger in his heart,” said William Norfleet, Liu’s son-in-law. “It is my hope that instead of giving into these negative forces, we honor his legacy with the same love and compassion for others that guided him throughout his life.”
Liu’s grieving friends and colleagues also highlighted his dedication to his research and his unique sense of humor.
“He was usually playing jokes and making bets,” said Dexi Liu, professor of pharmacy at University of Georgia College of Pharmacy and Liu’s PhD advisor. “He taught me as much as, or more, than I taught him.”
The pharmacy school established the Feng Liu Graduate Student Award Fund that will annually honor students studying molecular pharmaceutics.
The 911 call alerting police about the incident reveals he was found with blood coming out of his nose and ears. The caller told the dispatcher Liu was unconscious but still breathing.
Liu was found laying on the street near the intersection of West University Drive and Ransom Street. There were multiple people with Liu at the time of the call, including a pre-medical student, according to the caller.
Towards the end of the call, Liu began to move around. But his breathing remained irregular.
“His breathing is very shallow,” the caller said. “He’s rolled over on his side right now.”
In a joint statement, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Chancellor Folt said the town and university are committed to public safety and listed programs like Neighborhood Watch, the Community Safety Program and CrimeStoppers as programs that monitor criminal activity in Chapel Hill neighborhoods.
“Although Chapel Hill remains a safe community, random acts of violence may make us feel vulnerable,” the statement said.
Neighborhoods on edge
The randomness of Liu’s brutal killing has made it even harder for his grieving colleagues, Blouin said.
“So many of our faculty, staff and students, and parts of our community, normally walk through that area, which I personally jog through on a regular basis,” he said.
“The randomness of this act makes it difficult, I think, for people to truly grasp it, because it was a random, violent act that I guess many of us could have projected ourselves on at that very place and at that very moment.”
The Chapel Hill Police Department has not increased the number of officers patrolling the Westwood neighborhood, but there have been several community meetings held to discuss safety.
“As far as we know, they are not part of a larger ring of criminals, so I don’t know that increasing patrols in one particular area would have any effect on crime in general, especially not city-wide," Mecimore said. “This is not an unsolved crime."
During the memorial service on Saturday, Liu’s friends, family, colleagues and students said they can find comfort in knowing his legacy will live on.
“Goodbye, Feng,” Dexi Liu said. “Life was not the same with you, and it will not be the same without you.”
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