‘He always wanted the best for other people’: Fiancée of Yale grad student shot and killed in New Haven reflects on his positive impact

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Yale graduate student, Kevin Jiang, was shot and killed over the weekend in New Haven. Police are actively investigating his death as a homicide. Now, his friends and family are sharing his impact on his community.

According to his Facebook page, Jiang had met the love of his life and became engaged a week before his death.

Zion Perry met Jiang at a church retreat on Jan. 30, 2020. Exactly one year later, he proposed.

“I can’t believe I got to know him for that incredible year…He had a really big heart and always wanted the best for other people. He was involved in so many things. He was in the military, he was a tank driver, he did salsa dancing, he played the piano. He loved the outdoors, fishing, hiking. God gave him a really amazing life.”

She added, “So many people have been sending me messages, have been posting articles or comments on Facebook. That’s just so amazing, all the people that Kevin touched.”

Wednesday, Feb. 17, we heard from Jiang’s mother, Zhen Liu. Through a translator, she said, “Kevin was my beloved only child. Last Saturday evening when the police told me he was shot, my first reaction was ‘this cannot be real.'”

WEB EXTRA: Zhen Liu, mother of Kevin Jiang, releases statement on her son’s death

Jiang was a second-year graduate student studying environmental science and was recently tracking mercury levels of fish in the Quinnipiac River Watershed.

“Looking back, in my 30 years of teaching, he’s the single most effective student I ever had,” School of the Environment professor Gabe Benoit said of Jiang. “He was such a bright light to be extinguished so early. Some people are embers and smolder, but he flamed and burned very brightly when he was here.”

University officials and classmates were shocked by the news.

“My office has been in close contact with members of Kevin’s family,” a message from President Peter Salovey read in part. “I wish to convey to them and to all others who loved Kevin my sincere condolences. Kevin was an extraordinary young man.”

Salovey said the university will focus on keeping students and staff safe.

“We will continue to focus on the security and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors.”

“I am deeply saddened that we lost Yale School of Environment student Kevin Jiang last night to gun violence,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said Sunday of Jiang’s death. “Kevin would have celebrated his 27th birthday next week.”

Jiang was also an Army veteran.

He served as a tank operator and as a chemical, biological, radiation, nuclear officer and he was a member of the Connecticut Army National Guard.

He received several awards including two Army Reserve Component Achievement Medals, a National Defense Service Medal, an Army Service Ribbon, an Army Achievement Medal and a Washington National Guard Service Ribbon.

“Our hearts are heavy having lost a brother and bright young member of our team with nothing but potential ahead of him,” Major General Francis Evon told News 8 in a statement. “2nd Lt. Jiang believed in service to his community and recently volunteered to support COVID-19 relief efforts. There’s nothing to call this other than a tragedy and we give our deepest condolences to his family, fiancée and loved ones and thank you for precious time you’ve shared him with us.”

RELATED: New Haven PD investigating fatal shooting of Yale student, shooting at home of assistant superintendent amid violent start to the year

Jiang was also part of a salsa/bachata dance group at Yale. Jason Ramos is the dance instructor. He said of Jiang, “One of his biggest gifts was his enthusiasm for life…He always lit up the room with his smile and his laughter.”

Ramos said they’re coming together to help Jiang’s family any way they can.

“He will be dearly missed and we hope to continue to honor his memory.”

Blair Williams, a friend of Zion and Kevin reached out to News 8 to say, in part, “I saw in Kevin a deep curiosity as he asked multiple questions about the sermons and other related topics which provided opportunities for those who all to learn and understand more. He always had a huge grin on his face and exuded warmth and love at every moment. I am grateful to have met Kevin, to see the wonderful work God was doing in his life and the ways that even after his passing, his remarkable character and love for God has brought many in the community together.”

Jiang was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in New Haven. A statement from co-pastor Greg Hendrickson reads, in part, “Earlier this week, I had agreed to officiate Kevin’s wedding. Now, we will be officiating his funeral instead. As a community, we are grieving deeply right now.”

News 8 stopped by Jiang’s home Tuesday. His father said it’s been an incredibly painful time, and they don’t wish to release a statement or comment at this time.

Perry told News 8 Jiang left a lasting impact on everyone he met. That’s clear when you look at a virtual tribute wall, a site made available to the Yale community to share thoughts, memories, and photos of Jiang.

One reads, “It’s rare to encounter such pure, genuine brightness in one person, and I hope we never take people like Kevin for granted.” Another one reads, “He was truly a light on every corner of the campus and I’m so grateful that I got to know him. We will see you again, Kevin.”

Students and staff can post tributes to Jiang online.

A virtual funeral for Jiang was held Saturday, Feb. 13.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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