MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A Massachusetts graduate student sought in the fatal February shooting of a Yale University environmental student was tracked down in Alabama on Friday and taken into custody.
Qinxuan Pan, 30, of Malden, faces charges of murder and larceny in the killing of Kevin Jiang, a 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran and second-year master’s student at Yale’s School of the Environment.
Jiang, a Chicago native who died about a week before his 27th birthday, had become engaged days before his death. A Jan. 30 video posted on Jiang’s Facebook page shows him dropping to one knee in the snow and proposing to fiancée Zion Perry, a fellow graduate student at Yale.
“Kevin was warm-hearted and jubilant, rich in service and respect with a comforting smile,” Jiang’s loved ones wrote in his obituary. “He loved music and the arts, enchanting crowds with his piano skills and motivating novices to step out on the dance floor. Kevin embodied the courage to connect personally with those around him and to uplift those who needed a helping hand.”
New Haven police officials said Jiang was gunned down shortly after 8:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in the tree-lined Goatville neighborhood, about a mile from Yale’s campus. He was found lying next to his car suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.
The New Haven Independent reported that he’d been shot repeatedly, at close range, near his fiancée’s apartment.
Pan, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, became a person of interest within days of the killing, though the motive for the shooting is unclear. The New Haven Register reported that Perry graduated from MIT last year with an undergraduate degree in biological engineering.
Photos from March 2020 appear to show Perry and Pan mingling with other guests at MIT’s Lindy Hop Society Bread & Bones Birthday Jam, the Independent reported. It is not clear how well Perry and Pan knew one another, and the newspaper noted that there has been no suggestion from authorities that there was a personal relationship.
Pan, who earned an undergraduate degree from MIT in 2014, enrolled that same year as a graduate student in the school’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Register reported.
According to the Independent, Pan’s area of research was artificial intelligence.
New Haven police officials previously said they had not confirmed or ruled out a prior connection between her and Pan, the newspaper said.
A stolen SUV and a drive to Connecticut
New Haven authorities said Pan stole a blue GMC Terrain from a dealership in Mansfield, Massachusetts, the day of Jiang’s killing. Mansfield is about 125 miles from New Haven.
According to the Register, a salesman at the dealership told Mansfield police that Pan walked into the dealership that morning and requested a test drive, saying he wanted to bring the SUV to his mechanic for an inspection. He left with the vehicle around 11 a.m. and never returned.
When the salesman called Pan at 5:30 p.m. to see where he was, Pan claimed he’d had a family emergency and asked for more time, the newspaper reported. When the employee told Pan he needed to return the SUV by the close of business, Pan stopped responding to his calls and texts.
Authorities went to Pan’s home in Malden to see if the SUV was there but found no sign of it or Pan. A relative told Malden police officers that Pan had changed his cellphone number and would not tell them where he was, according to a police report obtained by the Register.
The newspaper, which tried to contact Pan in the days after Jiang’s killing, reported that his home phone had also been disconnected.
Mansfield police entered the stolen SUV into the computer system at 10:40 p.m. Feb. 6. Five minutes later, they learned that North Haven police officers had just towed the vehicle, which had earlier that evening gotten a flat tire on some railroad tracks that run through a scrap yard.
“When officers arrived, they found Pan behind the wheel and the vehicle had a flat tire,” North Haven police Chief Kevin Glenn told the Independent. “At the time, there was no reason for the officers to do a sobriety test or pat him down. The vehicle was checked and found to be properly registered. Mr. Pan had a valid license, and the vehicle was not reported stolen at the time.”
Officers had the car towed and Pan got a ride with the tow truck driver to a Best Western, where he booked a room but never checked in, the Register reported.
By the time officers returned to the hotel, Pan was gone. They were able to recover a bag belonging to Pan at a nearby Arby’s, where someone reported that it had been tossed near a dumpster.
The bag contained potential evidence, though the Independent did not say what that evidence might have been.
Authorities allege Pan was in the area of the shooting when Jiang was slain. Yale police officials said witnesses reported seeing a “shiny new black vehicle flee the scene.”
Prior to his arrest, Pan had last been spotted Feb. 11 near Duluth, Georgia, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. A family member told authorities Pan, who was not acting like himself, was “walking by himself and acting strange,” the Register reported.
The marshals secured an international warrant for Pan’s arrest last month, prompting a “red notice” from Interpol. Pan, a U.S. citizen, was born in Shanghai and international flight from law enforcement was a concern.
Pan never got that far.
He was arrested Friday in the 400 block of Fairview Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama, a couple of blocks from Interstate 65, a major artery through the city. He was taken to the Montgomery County Detention Center, where he remained Monday awaiting extradition.
Jesse Seroyer Jr., U.S. marshal for the Middle District of Alabama, said the agency’s Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force had received information that Pan was in Montgomery, but he did not indicate where the tip came from.
“Once we received information that Pan was in Montgomery, a plan was developed and executed,” Seroyer said in a news release. “This is another example of hard work by federal and state partners to arrest violent fugitives.”
Lawrence Bobnick, Seroyer’s counterpart in the District of Connecticut, praised the efforts of everyone involved in finding the murder suspect.
“The successful apprehension of Qinxuan Pan this morning in Montgomery, Alabama, marks the culmination of countless hours of investigation and is a testament to the dedication of all the investigators involved,” Bobnick said.
‘He was such a bright light’
Those who knew Jiang described him as a dedicated student who brought joy to everyone he knew. According to Yale News, Jiang, a member of the Connecticut National Guard, had been called to active duty shortly before his death to help support the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An active member of Trinity Baptist Church in New Haven, Jiang was a youth mentor and he cooked and distributed food at a homeless shelter.
“I know we’re all grieving right now for the loss of a vital member of our community,” Yale President Peter Salovey said Feb. 8 at a virtual vigil for the slain student. “He exemplified our shared commitment to improving our world. Kevin served the common good in so many ways.”
Gabe Benoit, professor of environmental chemistry and Jiang’s faculty advisor, worked closely with the graduate student.
“Kevin jumped into everything he did with both feet, all the way, and had a way of inspiring everyone around him,” Benoit said.
Benoit described Jiang as the “single most effective” student he’d taught in three decades of teaching.
“He was such a bright light to be extinguished so early,” Benoit said. “Some people are embers and smolder, but he flamed and burned very brightly when he was here.”
Jiang’s mother, Linda Liu, said at her son’s funeral that his life, while short, was colorful and brought happiness and positivity to those around him.
“As a mother, I will always miss Kevin, and treasure the blessings he brought me,’ Liu said, according to the Register. “Although Kevin is gone from us now, Kevin is the most wonderful gift God has ever given me on Earth. I look forward to being reunited with Kevin in heaven in the future.”
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