New court records reveal for the first time how the high-tech manhunt for the man who shot and killed Yale grad student Kevin Jiang in February zeroed in on MIT researcher Qinxuan Pan as he attempted to elude authorities for three months.
Cellphone location data, surveillance cameras, license plate readers and traditional shoe-leather detective work all contributed to authorities’ quick unraveling of what happened just after Jiang’s death and where their prime suspect may have been on the lam, according to a nearly 100 page dossier of arrest and search warrant records unsealed and released Friday.
Pan, 30, has been charged with murder and remains in custody on $20 million bond, a figure so high it is believed to be a record in Connecticut and that has been appealed by Pan’s defense attorney William Gerace.
Pan was arrested by federal agents May 19 in Montgomery, Alabama, more than three months after Jiang’s death, where he was renting an apartment under a false name and had in his possession seven cellphones, $19,000 in cash and his father’s passport, prosecutors have said.
The documents released Friday do not detail exactly how U.S. marshals caught up with Pan in Alabama, but they do shed light on how a chance encounter with North Haven police in the hour after Jiang’s murder gave authorities a break that would ultimately lead to Pan’s capture.
Jiang was shot and killed at about 8:30 p.m. Feb. 6 on Lawrence Street near the Yale University campus.
The 26-year-old grad student and U.S. Army veteran had just left his home a few blocks away after a day of fishing with his new fiancée, 22-year-old Yale classmate Zion Perry. She had stood at the door as he left and heard gunshots a few minutes later but thought little of it, believing Jiang had left the area, according to court records.
Instead, Jiang would be found lying near his car with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and was pronounced dead at the scene.
One witness told detectives she heard the gunshots ring out and saw “the shooter standing over Jiang firing two shots in a downward direction toward Jiang as he lay in the street,” court records show. Other witnesses described a light-skinned man getting into a black GMC Terrain SUV after the confrontation and surveillance cameras in the area captured the sound of eight gunshots before a brief scream and several additional shots.
About a half-hour later, just before 9 p.m., North Haven police were called to help a man whose black GMC Terrain had gotten stuck on railroad tracks on Universal Drive after taking a wrong turn, records show.
The driver, Pan, at first told officers the car was a rental but could produce no rental agreement nor could he explain why a check of the license plates on the vehicle showed they had been reported stolen in Newington, records show.
The officers had the vehicle towed off the tracks to be seized and the tow truck driver took Pan to a nearby Best Western to stay the night — more than an hour before an “officer safety” bulletin ultimately was broadcast by New Haven police to alert nearby departments to look for a black GMC Terrain and its driver with a yellow jacket, court records show.
The next morning, employees at an Arby’s next to the hotel discovered a .45-caliber Ruger handgun, seven firearm magazines, boxes of ammunition, a briefcase, three license plates and other items and reported it to police, court records show. One of the responding officers recognized the yellow jacket, MetroPCS knit cap and briefcase as those he’d seen the night before in the GMC Terrain they had helped pull from the train tracks.
Officers hurried to the Best Western to search for Pan but could not find him and hotel staff discovered the room he booked had not been used the night before, according to the warrant affidavit.
Detectives asked Jiang’s fiancée Perry about Pan and discovered they had met in 2019 when she was studying at MIT, court records show. The two had not connected since Perry’s graduation from MIT in May 2020 but remained friends on Facebook, where Pan could have seen photos and posts about Perry’s relationship with Jiang, including the announcement of their engagement just a week before Jiang’s murder, police noted.
“They met while attending various Christian group events on campus,” the warrant affidavit reads. “They talked at those events and she invited him to other events to welcome him. They never had a romantic or sexual relationship, they were just friends, but she did get a feeling that he was interested in her during that time.”
The search for Pan intensified on Feb. 8 when U.S. Marshals began to help in the search and information about phones and cars linked to the Pan family started to filter back to investigators, court records show.
A phone that had belonged to Pan had been located at a gas station in rural North Carolina not far from I-95, but he was nowhere to be found, and license plate readers captured a Lexus previously linked to Pan’s mother crossing the Verrazano Bridge in New York just after 3:30 a.m. the morning after Jiang’s murder, detectives detailed in the warrant affidavit.
A search on license plate reader history revealed that the same Lexus had been in New Haven twice before, first late one night in September 2020 and again the night of Nov. 17, 2020, just 1,000 feet from Perry’s home, court records reveal.
Later that week, five days after the murder, U.S. Marshals received several alerts that the Lexus had been seen in Duluth, Georgia, near Atlanta, court records show. Agents were able to find and stop the car and found only Pan’s parents, Hong Huang and Hao Pan, inside.
Hao Pan told investigators he and his wife had been summoned to Connecticut by their son days earlier to help him, but he would not explain why his son needed help, court records show. He also claimed Pan had lost his phone and that he had last seen his son early that morning, but he claimed he did not know where either of those events happened.
Pan would remain on the lam for three more months, during which U.S. Marshals and police departments across the East Coast offered rewards and tried to drum up leads on his whereabouts.
Eventually federal agents discovered him in Montgomery but officials have offered few details about how they located him or what he was planning on doing next, and the court records released Friday do not shed light on what happened between interviewing Pan’s parents and his ultimate arrest.
Forensic and DNA analysis determined blood found on the gear shifter of the seized GMC terrain is likely Jiang’s, court records show.
Ballistics on the shell casings found at the scene of Jiang’s death also linked the handgun to four other shots fired incidents in the area, including one in Hamden just an hour before his murder and another the afternoon before, both involving a black GMC Terrain, records show.
Upon Pan’s extradition to Connecticut, prosecutors initially asked Superior Court Judge Brian Fischer to hold Pan on a staggering $50 million bond, citing his and his parents’ apparent wealth and the flight risk Pan posed based on his months eluding authorities.
Fischer instead set bond at $20 million but Pan’s defense attorney Gerace told reporters gathered outside the court it was “exorbitant” and has since appealed the bond as unconstitutionally high.
Court records indicate Fischer also issued a protective order barring Pan from having any contact whatsoever with a woman with the initials “ZP.”
Pan was born in Shanghai but has lived in the U.S. since 2007 and is an American citizen, Gerace said. Gerace described him as an engaging young man with a “stratospheric” IQ who worked as an artificial intelligence researcher at the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab.
Pan remains in custody and is scheduled to appear at noon July 13 in the New Haven Judicial District.
Zach Murdock can be reached at email@example.com.