Missing Chinese grad student Yingying Zhang feared dead, Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests man

Posted July 03, 2017

A man has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of 26-year-old Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang, a visiting student at the University of IL who was last seen on June 9 and is now believed to be dead.

Federal authorities say Brendt Christensen, who turned 28 on Friday, of Champaign, Illinois, is charged in a criminal complaint with abducting Zhang shortly after she stepped off a bus near the university campus.

Brendt Christensen was brought in for an interview and allegedly admitted to driving around the UI campus when he saw Zhang on the street and offered her a ride, she got in the auto. Authorities now believe Zhang is dead, though they say her body has not been found. Christensen was enrolled as a PhD candidate in experimental condensed matter physics by UIUC but it was not clear if he was still studying at the university when he was arrested. Zhang had arrived at the university just weeks before to conduct research in agricultural sciences and had planned to begin work on her doctorate in the fall.

However, later when police reviewed the surveillance video footage of Zhang's last appearance, it was found the vehicle which Zhang entered had a cracked hubcap on the front passenger side, which matched Christensen's auto and made the Federal Bureau of Investigation put him under surveillance. "Please support fellow community members tonight", police at the University of IL said. However, Christensen admitted that he picked her up on June 15 but told an Federal Bureau of Investigation agent that he had dropped her off a few blocks away after she panicked. Video from a security camera on the university campus showed her climbing into a vehicle and being driven away. Christensen said he took Zhang back to his apartment, the complaint adds.

They placed him under surveillance and say he searched the internet on how to kidnap people. "But in this moment, I ask each of you to keep her family in your thoughts and to make our collective focus a celebration of Yingying Zhang's life".

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The University of IL has the largest Chinese student population of any US college, with 5,600 students enrolled, according to USA government data.

Christensen is due in court in Urbana on Monday. The FBI offered a reward of $10,000 for information that would help locate her.

Chinese Government pays high attention to the case, and Chinese Embassy in the US and Chinese Consulate in Chicago have kept negotiating with USA departments, in an effort to push for early finding of Zhang, Hong said. Police at the University of IL gave their condolences to Yingying's family.

Those who knew her described Zhang as bright and outgoing. He continued teaching as a graduate assistant and earned his master's degree in mid-May.