Man arrested in connection to missing scholar; Zhang presumed dead

Posted July 03, 2017

The FBI has arrested a suspect in the case of Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old visiting Chinese scholar.

Brendt Christensen, 27, of Champaign, Illinois, has been charged with kidnapping Yingying Zhang, after he being under surveillance.

Initially, law enforcement had few leads into Zhang's June 9 disappearance, but surveillance video at the University of IL showed her getting into a black Saturn Astra, which ultimately led investigators to Christensen.

Investigators later determined the auto in the video had a sunroof and cracked hubcap, like the vehicle belonging to Christensen, according to the affidavit. Authorities say they believe she is dead, though her body hasn't been found.

The criminal complaint provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation says Christensen is charged with kidnapping. The FBI said in a statement that evidence they have points to Zhang no longer being alive. Christensen's LinkedIn profile posted online states he is a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the university and a graduate teaching assistant there since 2013.

Zhang had arrived at the university in April, and was studying photosynthesis and crop productivity, according to the FBI's criminal complaint. "Please support fellow community members tonight", police at the University of IL said.

The FBI believes Zhang to be dead, according to the News-Gazette.

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Christensen said the woman panicked after he apparently made a wrong turn and he let her out in a residential area.

In a recording of the conversation, according to the affidavit, Christensen was heard talking about keeping Zhang against her will to his apartment.

In the video, which police released, Zhang was seen standing on the street corner of W. Clark St. and N. Goodwin Ave, before being approached by the vehicle. University police released a video of her getting into the auto.

Zhang's disappearance prompted a nationwide discussion of the case in China, considering there are over 300,000 Chinese scholars, students, and graduates attending or working at USA universities.

Christensen was placed under surveillance on June 16 and his apartment was searched.

Christensen's federal court appearance in Urbana is scheduled for July 3 at 10:00 a.m. local time.

There are more than 300,000 Chinese students and scholars attending U.S. universities. The FBI, the University of Illinois Police Department officers were busy inspecting the building Saturday noon, blocking all other than residents of the building from getting in. She graduated from Beijing's prestigious Peking University previous year with a master's degree in environmental engineering, according to a department webpage. "I could not sleep at all last night", he said.