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UNC first-years hold vigil day after campus shooting, hundreds of students attend

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UNC students light candles to honor the memory of associate professor Zijie Yan during the candlelight vigil and call-to-action outside of the Student Union on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.

Holding on to candles and each other, hundreds of students gathered outside the Student Union Tuesday night to honor the memory of UNC associate professor Zijie Yan and speak about their experiences on campus during Monday's shooting. 

UNC students light candles to honor the memory of associate professor Zijie Yan during the candlelight vigil and call-to-action outside of the Student Union on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.


The vigil was organized by a small group of UNC first-years. Raife Levy, a student who helped coordinate the event, said about six students got to work creating a flier for the event the night before.

Levy said they posted the flier on their social media channels, including on the UNC Snapchat story. He added that the organizers didn't anticipate the amount of people who attended.

“It was spontaneous — like let’s do something after this horrific act happened, let’s do something to show our support and to help make some change,” Levy said.

UNC students gather around the Student Union to honor the memory of associate professor Zijie Yan during the candlelight vigil and call-to-action on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.


Many students stepped up onto a table in front of the Union to speak to the crowd of students and community members during the vigil. They spoke about the proliferation of gun violence in the United States and the importance of standing in solidarity with each other and checking in on loved ones. 

Students also used chalk to write messages such as “Policy > Prayer” and “Stronger Together” on the brick ground in front of the Union.

Shiva Rajbhandari, a first-year at UNC who helped organize the event alongside Levy, spoke to the crowds around the Union last night.

Rajbhandari said at the vigil that if six students can bring hundreds of people together to mourn, stand in solidarity with one another and demand action, the community should think about what 300 people could do to bring an end to the senseless violence that plagues the United States.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt as scared for my life as I did yesterday, and I’m sure many of you felt the same way,” he said.

A single candle rests on the ground during the candlelight vigil honoring associate professor Zijie Yan and call-to-action on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.


Rajbhandari encouraged the students to hold their friends and loved ones tightly and take a 60-second moment of silence to think about Yan and the others who have lost their lives to gun violence in the United States.

For one minute, the crowd of hundreds was silent, and the only sounds coming from around the Union were bags rustling and crickets chirping.

UNC students hold candles to honor the memory of associate professor Zijie Yan during the candlelight vigil and call-to-action outside of the Student Union on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.

After the moment of silence, Rajbhandari asked the students to take out their phones, open their notes app and type down U.S. Sen. Ted Budd’s (R-NC) name and phone number. 

“I think it's really important that we share our experiences from yesterday and process the trauma that that all caused us, but I think the person who needs to hear those stories the most is Senator Budd,” he said at the vigil.

Student responses

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Janani Shivakumar, a UNC sophomore, said she and her friends were walking by the Pit last night and saw the candles from a distance and decided to join the vigil to show their support.

She said it was sad that students were expected to advocate for change when the University's administration should be the group protecting students.

When the emergency sirens sounded on Monday, Shivakumar said she was outside between Hamilton Hall and Lenoir Dining Hall, on her way to Wilson Library. She said she initially thought the emergency was a hurricane or tornado warning.

“Two seconds later, we all get the alert to run and all we hear is tables screeching and everyone is getting up and running into Lenoir,” Shivakumar said. 

UNC students light candles to honor the memory of associate professor Zijie Yan during the candlelight vigil and call-to-action outside of the Student Union on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.


Sophomore transfer student Sierra Manifold said she was excited to come to UNC, but the Aug. 28 shooting has left her feeling shaken up.

“Now it’s weird being on campus because I know what happened yesterday, and it’s kind of a weird eerie feeling now,” she said. 

Manifold said she went to the vigil to pay her respects to Yan, and also because she thinks everyone needs someone to be with this week.

Levy said that before Monday, he was concerned about whether he was going to get good grades in his classes and how he needed to study for Chemistry 101: General Descriptive Chemistry I.

“Obviously I’m still concerned about my grades to an extent, but that’s not why I’m here anymore,” he said. “I’m here, and this shooting really changed my perspective. I want to actually do things while I’m here to help make change and to help others know that they can make change too."

UNC students hold candles to honor the memory of associate professor Zijie Yan during the candlelight vigil and call-to-action outside of the Student Union on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023.


@Lucymarques_

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com


Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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