Affidavit reveals more details in Tong Shao case, death ruled murder


Former University of Iowa Student Xiangnan Li was sentenced to life in prison after conviction of the international homicide of Iowa State student Tong Shao.

Makayla Tendall and Danielle Ferguson

New details about the case of Tong Shao, the 20-year-old ISU international student who was reported missing in September, have some in the international community wanting justice. 

Shao’s death was ruled as a murder, according to a death certificate issued by a Johnson County medical examiner, “listing the immediate cause of death as asphyxia and the manner of death as homicide,” according to the Iowa Press-Citizen.

An affidavit acquired by GazetteOnline found that Xiangnan Li, a Chinese exchange student at the University of Iowa and the main person of interest in the death of ISU student Tong Shao, had overheard Shao complaining about him to another man over the phone.

Detectives spoke with Li’s friend, Karen Yang. The affidavit stated that Yang spoke with Li every week or two. 

On Sept. 3, 2014, Li called Yang unexpectedly because he was upset over what had just happened — Li had called Shao, who must have answered the phone accidentally but did not realize it, according to the affidavit. 

The line was open for about 30 minutes and during this time, “Li listened in to the coversation Shao was having with another male. During this overheard conversation, Li heard Shao complaining about Li and saying things about him that were not nice,” according to the affidavit. 

Li was named the main person of interest after Shao’s body was found in the trunk of her Toyota Camry where Li lived at Dolphin Lake Point Enclave in Iowa City on Sept. 26.

Shao’s friends said she had gone to Iowa City to visit Li, her boyfriend, for the weekend of Sept. 6-7.

A text message from Li’s phone was sent to Shao’s friends in Ames on Sept. 8. The message said Shao was texting from Li’s phone because her phone was dead and that she was taking a bus to Minnesota to visit friends, while Li flew back to China for an emergency. The message said that Shao would keep Li’s phone with her.

Police were not able to find any records that showed Shao took a bus to Minnesota, according to the affidavit.

After Shao’s friends and family were not able to contact her for a week, they reported her as missing.

Li flew out of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, airport Sept. 8 and arrived in China on Sept. 10, according to the affidavit. However, phone records show that the text sent from Li’s phone to Shao’s friends was sent while he was on a layover in Chicago, which conflicts with the text message that said Shao would keep his phone and that they were in Iowa City, according to the affidavit.

On Sept. 9, Yang contacted Li again to ask how his relationship was with Shao. Li responded that things were “fine for now,” according to the affidavit.

Li’s friends or family have not heard from him since his plane arrival in China on Sept. 10, according to the affidavit.

Xilu Wang, president of the Chinese Students and Scholar Association, didn’t know Shao personally and said he understands the case is complicated, but would still like to see the investigation progress. 

“From the action of releasing the search warrant, it can be seen that the officials [are] working hard on our beloved Shao’s case, and I believe one day the justice will be brought to her,” Wang said in a message. 

Wang said the incident has shaken up the international community at Iowa State. 

“Some feel scared,” he said via phone. “It’s a really rare thing in Iowa. It’s like something in a movie.”

Wang said though people may not talk about the event all the time, but won’t forget about Shao or what happened. 

“They will not forget it at all,” Wang said. “Maybe every time [students] travel, they will think about it. ‘Is this going to happen to me one day if I travel around?’ Maybe sometimes if you have an argument with someone you’re close with, you may think about it. The whole international community has been very sad after what happened to her.”