A University of Pittsburgh researcher on the cusp of making “very significant findings” about the novel coronavirus was killed over the weekend in what authorities say was a murder-suicide.
As a research assistant professor, Liu focused on using computational models to study biological processes. He was working from home during the pandemic and studying the virus, his supervisor said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Officials told the newspaper Liu was shot by another man and suffered gunshot wounds to the head, neck, torso and extremities. The man, later identified as 46-year-old Hao Gu, then got into his car about 100 yards away and killed himself.
Neighbors told the paper they didn’t hear any gunshots the day Liu was killed.
The front and rear patio doors of Liu’s home were open at the time of his death because of the springtime weather, the Post-Gazette reported. His wife wasn’t home at that time.
No items were stolen from the home, according to the paper.
Ross Township Detective Brian Kohlhepp told WTAE that police don’t believe the relationship between the two men had anything to do with Liu’s research on the coronavirus.
It is unclear how the two men knew each other, and police are investigating whether there was any confrontation before the shooting. A possible motive for the murder also is unclear, the Post-Gazette reported.
In a statement, Liu’s department at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine called him a prolific researcher and generous mentor. Shortly before his death, he had begun researching the cellular mechanisms that underlie coronavirus infections and the cellular basis of ensuing complications.
Ivet Bahar, his supervisor and the head of his department, told the Post-Gazette Liu had just started to receive interesting results.
Bahar had sent several emails to Liu over the weekend about his work and was surprised that the normally prompt researcher wasn’t responding, according to the Post-Gazette.
After a conversation with a colleague about the crime, she confirmed Liu was the victim, the paper reported. He had not expressed any fear for his life to her, she told the paper.
“We will make an effort to complete what he started in an effort to pay homage to his scientific excellence,” the statement said.
Liu and his wife had no children and mostly kept to themselves, neighbors told the Post-Gazette.
Liu received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the National University of Singapore, according to his professional website. He had previously worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the department of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and with Bahar as a research associate in the department of computational and systems biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Throughout his career, he published more than 30 academic papers and wrote a book.