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A Pittsburgh scientist, who was supposedly “on the verge” of a “significant” discovery related to COVID-19, wasn’t killed in connection with his research, police said.
Instead, investigators believe Dr. Bing Liu's murder was related to a suspected love triangle.
“The evidence that we have points to it being a dispute regarding an intimate partner,” Ross Township Police Sgt. Brian Kohlhepp told Oxygen.com. “We were aware of his work and the computational biology research that he did but that did not play a strong role in our investigation.”
Liu, 37, was allegedly gunned down by Hao Gu, 46, in his Ross Township home on May 2. He had been shot multiple times in the head, neck, and torso, police stated. Police found Gu, who sustained a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound, deceased in a nearby car.
“Investigative leads developed throughout the weekend have led us to believe that the male from the car shot and killed the man in the townhome before returning to his car and taking his own life,” police said in a press release.
The University of Pittsburgh has since claimed Liu was nearing a momentous discovery related to his research on the coronavirus.
“Bing was on the verge of making very significant findings toward understanding the cellular mechanisms that underlie SARS-CoV-2 infection and the cellular basis of the following complications,” university officials said in a statement. “We will make an effort to complete what he started in an effort to pay homage to his scientific excellence.”
Liu was described as an “excellent mentor” and a “prolific” research scientist who made “unique contributions to science.” He co-authored more than 30 articles in academic journals and scientific publications.
“Liu was an excellent mentor,” the statement added. “He was patient, intelligent, and extremely mature. We will miss him very much.”
Liu, a Chinese native, received his bachelor and doctorate degrees in computer science from the National University of Singapore. The 37-year-old was recently promoted to research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“Any time life is cut down too soon is tragic and someone who was dedicated to science and the better of mankind, all the more so,” Kohlhepp added.
Federal investigators have since been notified of the case.
“Due to the fact that the individuals involved are not United States citizens and in accordance with long-standing protocol, our review has been forwarded to federal authorities,” police added in a statement.
Investigators were unable to confirm Gu’s nationality on Wednesday.
Conspiracy theories rapidly proliferated on social media following Liu’s murder, namely speculating that he was targeted by shadowy forces in China or the U.S. because of his COVID-19 research.
“I think nobody has sufficient evidence to make a determination one way or another,” Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told Oxygen.com.
Wandt, a former city police officer and surveillance technology expert who has studied a number of true crime hoaxes, urged social media users to exercise caution in the wake of Liu’s slaying, particularly as tensions run high during the pandemic.
“We don’t have enough information to make any claims,” he added. “They’re spreading disinformation that could potentially be damaging. Blaming a certain group or blaming a certain government for this has turned out disastrous in the past.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that federal investigators had taken over the case. Ross Township Police have since clarified that federal investigators have simply been notified of the case. The story has been updated.
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