CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WGHP) — On Thursday, students at UNC-Chapel Hill returned to classes three days after police say a suspect went into a science lab and shot and killed associate professor Zijie Yan.
For students at the university newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, it has been a nonstop effort for more than 72 hours to provide detailed updates to the campus community.
They printed a cover that’s gained national attention. It shows texts students sent and received during the three-hour lockdown.
“The people I know who had to go back to class have been struggling. I’ve had people reach out and say it’s very very weird and eerie and scary to be back in the classroom they were in on Monday,” Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Tar Heel Emmy Martin said.
Martin was in a journalism classroom when the active shooter alert went out Monday afternoon.
“I immediately started covering it. I worked with our university editor Abby Pender. We created a breaking news story and updated as soon as we knew what was happening minute by minute,” Martin said.
As law enforcement officials armed with rifles ran right in front of their building, the student journalists listened to a scanner and scrolled social media for updates.
“In a way, that was a way to cope with what was happening,” Martin said.
After the all-clear was given and the suspected shooter was taken into custody, the staff had 24 hours to get their newspaper ready for print.
“What was the front page going to be? We knew it needed to be simple, or impactful,” Martin said.
As the fear and grief set in on campus, Martin and her staff looked to their phones for the answer.
“I was seeing so many UNC students post messages like, ‘Are you safe? Where are you … I am scared<” Martin said.
The answer was a powerful Daily Tar Heel front page. It showed students telling their story in their own words from texts they sent and received during lockdown, line by line in black, white and red.
“You get to like the fourth line, and my eyes are already wet,” Martin said.
Millions of people became emotional when Managing Editor Caitlyn Yeade tweeted out a picture of the front page. It received over 7.8 million views and caught the eye of President Joe Biden. He praised the DTH team.
The team has gotten message after message about the front page, and many people told them they could relate to the horror the students felt.
“We didn’t create the page to go viral to make a statement. We created it to be kind of a marker of what our campus was feeling on Aug. 28. The fact it has gained attention is a wonderful plus, but it’s also horrible in a way,” Martin said.
The newspaper was so in demand that it had to be printed again. It’s a historical marker of a horrible day told best by the students who lived it themselves.